Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


Market research is an important tool, but its value depends on having a representative sample and carefully putting together questions that don’t funnel answers to an expected conclusion or cause confusion.

The ILM Tanner Business Confidence Survey is not in this category but, being self-selecting, it is not clear how well it really represents the trade. Despite this, 10 years of results certainly offers good evidence of trends and, given the volatility of the last decade, these are valuable to observe.

In one question, participants are asked to compare One 4 Leather, Real Leather. Stay Different. and Leather Naturally. The description “leather industry specific promotional campaigns” might be a neat way to describe them, but the question about how stakeholders align with them has little meaning. Perhaps the best takeaway from this is that, in 2010, such a question could never have been asked. The wider industry was in denial about the need to promote leather.

Today, leather organisations across the world have accepted the need to reassure the consumer that leather is a good material. They have also found this is to be a very complex business with a different emphasis required depending on their situation. The three organisations mentioned have different target audiences, different purposes and different approaches. A few stakeholders will support more than one of them, and perhaps all three.

While there is self-supporting overlap in the campaigns, there is also outstanding synergy enhancing the depth and breadth of impact beyond what any individual programme can reach. The three organisations add up to more than three times one. They are also exceptionally good at cooperating, something we should thank Egbert Dikkers for. While others proved cooperative, it was Dikkers who put dedicated effort into pulling down some of the worst silos in the industry while heading Leather Naturally.

One 4 Leather

The automobile industry has found itself hit by very specific problems as electric vehicles (EVs) start to dominate. It has become a rather crazy place where new staff, powerful lobbies, geopolitical upheaval and changes in cost structures have led to poor decision making and a lot of hypocritical greenwashing. A specific campaign targeting leather consumption in that industry via its specific media outlets, key influencers and the associated enthusiasts and buyers makes great sense. The automobile leather producers are a very distinct group of mostly big companies with multiple units around the world. Funding One 4 Leather has been good value for money.

Real Leather. Stay Different.

More than anything, the U.S. is now about exporting high-quality hides, either raw or wet-blue. There are some top tanneries remaining in the U.S., but they are generally specialised and important within their own sphere. During his decade of involvement, Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) President Stephen Sothmann has managed to bring together the tanning and hide sides of the American business, creating a well-funded organisation of major international relevance. Lots of small organisations covering individual areas do not make sense and the U.S. shows this very clearly.

Almost every significant tanning country and sector utilises American raw material. While the U.S. trade association has other vital tasks to fulfil in trade, the environment and agriculture promotion is essential.

More than any country, the U.S. suffers from large amounts of unsold raw material. The global design competition launched by LHCA-operated Real Leather. Stay Different aims to reverse this trend. It is an inspiring way to support leather in all the many markets where tanners utilise U.S. raw material and move it on to consumers. Working with young designers and fashion schools and collaborating with local leather associations to do so around the world is a superb concept.

Leather Naturally

Leather Naturally is a different kettle of fish, as it is the only worldwide leather promotional campaign not aligned to a geographical region or a specific lobby of some sort. Its management and executive team is entirely made up of industry volunteers who spend their evenings and weekends working to support the leather industry. Subscription fees now support a part-time administrative helper and some social media posting.

The Leather Naturally fact sheets, educational and supporting documentation offer materials in multiple languages to support tanners and others in working with all sectors from customers to consumers via schools and colleges, trade fairs and. social media. They cover every aspect of leather from origins to end of life.

The one absolutely essential aspect of these three programmes and others promoting leather is that the truth must be told. Leather has been weakened by the constant abuse of scientific fact and the deliberate use of inaccuracies. In our anxiety to redress the balance, we cannot stray into greenwashing or other errors.

When this column started, I did worry that fragmentation would impact income and the ability to combat the big buck leather hating bodies, but this was soon proven to be wrong. It is not a question of one or the other. The costs of participation are low, even for a struggling tannery. If it is right for your business to be in two then join two, or three.

For the industry to have materials meticulously developed, ensure scientific accuracy and avoid the traps of greenwashing and badly defined terms, everyone should get involved in Leather Naturally. Every stakeholder should be subscribing and nearly all should be offering to help out with volunteering staff or other resources.

The organisation’s materials benefit everyone, everywhere who makes leather in a responsible way, and they are free to use. So, make that your starting point, as important to join as your national body. We do not want an industry that sings in unison, but we do need to sing in harmony.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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