It has created a world of spendthrift, anxious and uncomfortable consumers. Both global warming and loss of biodiversity are consequences of overconsumption. As a global society, we have dug ourselves into a great big hole and, while everyone shouts very loudly about escape, we carry on digging.

One part of the solution would be to repair things. It is an old concept but there is a small move ongoing in this direction. Around the world we now have about 1,500 repair cafes, mostly targeting old electronic goods. Some governments are legislating about consumers’ right to repair or to have access to spare parts, while some prime-time TV programmes are now about repairing treasured items.

As cities developed all around the world, they had markets, or a series of markets, and mostly these still exist even if in a diminished state. In the UK, from locations as distant as Tenby in Wales to Inverness in Scotland, the ancient covered markets survive and in each of these you will find a shoe-repairer.

The avoidance of waste

Given that everything about the quality of leather revolves around the beauty and performance achieved via the avoidance of waste, and the associated longevity of leather articles, this is an area we need to support.

The tanning industry must make sure that every consumer can get their articles repaired. In the interest of enhancing profits, many electronic goods swapped glue for screws, meaning that their products often break when being opened for repair. Meanwhile, the fashion industry went to low-cost polyester to drive the calamitous cheap and disposable movement, and most cannot be repaired; some do not even withstand two washes. Consumer sentiment and industry judgment was coincidentally twisted by strong lobbying by rich fossil fuel and plastic businesses.

Chasing lower prices

Some of this was chasing low prices and some was planned obsolescence.  

So, buying better items and repairing them is ever more important, and leather should be at the forefront. Let us dream that every city and small town throughout the world can have its own shoe repairer. Preferably one with the skills to repair and refurbish bags and other items of leather as well. Can you imagine your tannery adopting a leather repairer or owning a group; spreading the brand name and reputation based on one of the pillars of sustainability? 

Equally, we should work harder to support the many companies around the world dedicated to dealing with automotive and furniture restoration and repair, along with some items too complex to handle in a small shop.

Can we dream that in all these locations we might have a leather industry supported showroom to explain the real value of leather to an urban society that does not know about its origins and its value in ownership in use? And in these locations have a repairer who works on ensuring everything made of leather gets a chance to live a proper long life cherished by its owner?

It seems like a challenge, yet it is a necessity for an industry making such an exceptional material for modern consumers who understand so little.

Mike Redwood

October 13, 2021

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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