Feeling a bit on edge lately? I don’t blame you. Setting our industry aside, the world is in turmoil. Energy prices are on the rise, its corporations are making record profits at the expense of the general public, Russia has invaded Ukraine and started a course of action that many think will lead to wider conflict, and we’re still suffering from a global pandemic.

The world is reeling from the social, financial and psychological consequences of Covid-19 and that has not really gone away. And now we are dealing with war in Europe and monumental price increases for commodities, chemicals, labour costs and all of the implications these things have for supply chains and margins.

Life after Covid

With many parts of the world freeing themselves of Covid restrictions, businesses are keen to get back on top but there is a real risk that competition and fear could get in the way of the great foundations the leather industry has begun to set down in terms of global cooperation and positive perception.

If you’ve been reading the March/April issue of ILM, then you know that the consequences of a decline in globalisation for an industry like leather are very real. As Mike Redwood says in his column: “While hides and skins can be processed and used locally to meet many needs, international trade from the beginning of civilisation recognised that different animals prospered in varying climates and conditions offered in diverse geographies. New trade routes were opened up to gain access to specific leathers or raw materials.”

This international trade of raw materials, chemicals, techniques and ideas is fundamental to the modern success of the leather industry, and it is not something easily set aside. But there is no way around the issues we have today without cooperation.

The same can be said for leather’s reputation with consumers. For all the effort that some are putting in to become more sustainable and to make leather into the most environmentally responsible and ethical material it can be, there are others who are letting the side down by flooding rivers with pollutants, skirting around audits and refusing to change with the times.

However, the answer cannot be for individual organisations to pour more money into sustainability and weigh down one side of the equation until it overrides the other. If the leather industry is going to move forward and achieve its goals, it needs to be done in unison.

When the International Council of Tanners’, Leather and Hide Council of America, Leather Naturally and others brought 34 organisations together to sign a leather manifesto ahead of COP26 in 2021, we got a glimpse of how clearly this industry can communicate its strengths when working together. However, as much as this was followed by a chorus of agreement and praise, it needs to be followed by action.

We are almost three months into 2022 and the leather industry cannot continue to work in silos. Individual efforts of cooperation are fantastic, and there are significant contributions from giant organisations and companies which are leading the way for development in this sector, but they will mean so much more if they are backed by a global industry that has truly united.

Polluting tanners must be held accountable, innovations must be supported and held aloft and pro-leather marketing must be backed by every region and sector within the leather supply chain in order to reach and educate brands and consumers.

Regardless of its standing in the eyes of consumers, leather has always been and continues to be embedded into the heart of society and that comes with not only a great deal of responsibility but the weight and power needed to make great change. So, it’s time to stop acting alone and start making moves together.

Tom Hogarth, Deputy Editor