Even more competitors have been compounding all these issues into a rather wicked narrative and then promoting their fossil fuel based plastic as a “better” type of leather. This has confused consumers and ignores all legal definitions and norms of proper competitive behaviour.

Not every evil is done by others
Two other points need considering. In the 1990s when kangaroo leather in football boots was being attacked, the leather industry organisations and most stakeholders took a definitive decision not to try and defend the leather, stating clearly at the time that “staying below the parapet” (I think I still have the message filed away somewhere) was considered wiser. I could never agree.

Next, some in the leather chemical industry and an increasing bandwagon of opportunistic greenwashing, tanners began to promote wet white and something they decided to term “chrome free” with no thought to the damage such promotion would do to the industry’s mainstream tanning method long before serious bulk of the new process had been tested. Twenty five years later, the alternates to chromium are still not very good and chromium stands up well to any rigorous objective analysis, yet, the whole industry is left largely defenceless against a huge weight of opinion that has designated chromium plus leather in any form totally unacceptable.

So, wherever we choose to lay the blame for the current underlying, and seemingly long-term, problems with leather, we cannot escape recognising that we ourselves have been a large part of the problem as we lived a cocooned life, self satisfied that all hides and skins went into leather, that marketing would only damage the price structure while future raw material scarcity was guaranteed to make tanners richer.

It was this foolish thinking that allowed tanners to spend ten years prevaricating over whether to support an organised industry campaign to promote and educate society about leather, and in the meantime to aggressively use cost plus pricing, allied to provocative statements about future hide price rises, to unnerve customers with big price hikes. No wonder many senior strategists in leather consuming companies decided that leather was a difficult material and they would rather stick to the alternatives they used when leather prices went high.

What we are talking about here is basic strategic marketing; the same approach that makes a business realise that how leather is positioned is important. Sell cheap leather into low grade furniture, or into low specification automobiles, and you can quickly turn it into a commodity. There are many such examples.

If we think leather is as valuable and sustainable a material as we do, and should, we need to learn to build a professional strategic marketing programme around it. An Instagram page plus a few Tweets and a promotion or two will not move the mountain of industry misery we have created. If you are in a hole of your own making, then the solution is not to keep on digging.

That is why in Leather Naturally we see a new platform, with different thinking and approaches based on a fundamental understanding of how consumers behave and brands work in today’s world.

Mike Redwood
November 20, 2019

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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