Despite tanning being almost certainly the oldest industry known to man both its products and production methods are facing increasing challenges as the first decade of the 21st century heads to a close.
The leather sector itself is global yet fragmented and so far no wide-ranging initiative has been taken to defend and promote its interests. There is a chorus of criticism from pressure groups and NGOs often with an ideological axe to grind and increasing competition from materials which successfully imitate the original product.
An early introduction to this concept by World Leather was “Beast to Beauty”, an annual conference and dinner held in the U.K. since 2008 and attended by a cross section of the industry with one aim in mind - to promote and draw attention to this very special raw material.
A second leather promotion was another World Leather inititave the launch by “World Leather” and APLF in Hong Kong of the “Tannery of the Year Award ” Gala dinner at the 2010 edition of APLF’s Materials, Manufacturing and Technology (MM&T) trade fair.
Leather Naturally! was formerly launched at a lunch organised by APLF Ltd at MM&T 2010 which was attended by representatives of industry associations, tanners, finished products manufacturers and the trade Press. The concept was outlined by Prof. Mike Redwood, with his wide experience as both a tanner and footwear manufacturer, who has taken on the responsibility of acting as the central contact for the initiative.
The next positive move was the organization of another industry dinner during ACLE at the end of August 2010. Sponsored by several companies servicing the industry and attracting some 40 guests from all sectors from tanners through to retailers, the main feature of the evening was another address my Mike Redwood followed by presentations by Dr Dietrich Tegtmeyer of Lanxess and Patrick Stapleton of GST Autoleather China. Various ideas were suggested as to the way forward including the most important - how to raise the capital necessary to get this concept of the ground.
The objectives of the LeatherNaturally! initiative are simple:
- To educate the buying public, fashion designers and finished product manufacturers about the use, beauty, versatility and sustainability of leather.
- To educate the public on the shortcomings of synthetic materials made from petrochemical processes which leave a huge carbon footprint on the environment and like radioactive materials, take hundreds if not thousands of years to biodegrade themselves into Mother Earth
- To defend the leather industry against the criticism leveled against the use of animal skins and the alleged dangers caused by cattle ranching and tanning industry to the environment
This is a complex task since it must be recognized that chrome tanning, for example, has been damaging the environment and groundwater for centuries but nowadays modern recycling plants, if properly managed, can minimize any damage to the surrounding tannery environment.
Fashion designers are combining leather with textiles and synthetic materials to adorn their creations. However, many of them will not understand how leather is manufactured and the processes required to produce that supple, pink leather off cut they are using to decorate their latest bag design. The more they understand, the more they will be inclined to appreciate the beauty and sustainability of leather. Our work will combine the promotion of quality leather with a positioning that encourages all elements of the industry globally to work towards sound and sustainable practices. It will not be part of the LeatherNaturally! agenda to audit or attempt to manage the industry in any way but it will only promote and celebrating the best in leather as a material for the consumer and the designer and for the planet.
The LeatherNaturally! initiative will also seek to highlight the leather experience from an aesthetic point of view ? it is quite simply "see me, feel me, touch me and smell me". .
This initiative is about dialogue and about engaging stakeholders from consumers back to the raw material in an enjoyable and useful conversation about how leather does and can fit into the modern world. It is an industry initiative driven at the moment by a small number of deeply interested parties in the industry.
A leather Industry initiative - the time for action!
A start has been made; the organisers of one of the most important international leather trade shows are ready to commit a substantial sum to the Leather Naturally! (LN!) concept Fund once other commitments are forthcoming. Also during the recent All China Leather Exhibition in Shanghai, a major trade journal dealing with the leather industry held a dinner in the Shanghai Hilton in order to promote the LN! concept to a wide-ranging group of attendees. These ranged from tanners, chemical companies through to finished product representatives. Feedback from the 50 or so attendees indicated a substantial level of interested parties who are ready to contribute.
Discussions are now underway to find a suitable organisation interested in and capable of being the catalyst for this initiative; handling the funds and activating the public relations campaign necessary to get the message across to designers, retailers and of course most important of all the buying public.