18 May 2023
Mike Redwood celebrates the leather industry’s move towards greater unity and calls for more to join in these collaboration efforts. Published on ILM.
A few days ago, Leather UK, which has been the UK leather industry trade organisation for the last century or more, held a dinner in London. I was delighted to be invited and was particularly thankful to my local tanners for driving me to the event when a rail strike would otherwise have stopped me attending.
The UK leather industry has spent 70 years getting smaller, dramatically so. The same can be said for many advanced nations, which once had internationally famous tanneries. As emerging economies understandably stopped the raw material exports that had been the hallmark of the world even before colonies and empires, capacity had to decline. Instead, it collapsed. Only now are we seeing equilibrium return.
A big industry allows each specialty to build its own silo of conversation and representation, creating structural issues as the sector withers, but now Leather UK has, over recent years, taken positive action to unite the wider trade. Many new members have been recruited from a wide number of sectors, creating a new forward-thinking dynamic. It now looks like a proper national industry body able to speak for all areas from one common platform.
The leather industry talks only to itself
I used to complain about the leather industry talking to itself and ignoring its customers; no longer. There is still a huge amount to do but the direction and the language has changed. Breaking out of the communication silos must go a lot further into the industry organisational structures, events and campaigns. The move in the UK is showing how this is happening and paying dividends; Leather UK is to be congratulated.
Such advances have been apparent elsewhere, such as the U.S. where the united tanners and hide traders have made outstanding strides with their international design competition and other activities. As this approach spreads through the world, leather will get more exciting and relevant again for all.
Some leather brands are clearly reversing thoughts about replacing leather or are more hesitant than they were. Many of those who have tried alternates have found how difficult leather is to replace. There is no doubt that the language from a more united and less assumptive leather industry has played its part in authorities, journalists, designers and alert consumers looking more critically at alternates and more honestly at leather, despite the aggressive negative bodies. The availability of carefully researched and well-presented data and information has played a vital role in this.
More big brands need to join leather’s educational work
Now, we need to persuade some of these brands, who make larger margins than tanneries from their use of leather, to direct a small part of their earnings towards supporting leather promotions and allow the communications to reach an ever-wider audience than limited funds and volunteer activity currently allows.
International Leather Maker Editor Martin Ricker recently wrote of his surprise that India was not a member of the International Council of Tanners. In fact, the membership of ICT is only a fraction of what it needs to be and sets a dreadful example in an industry that needs to unite to deal with a wide variety of issues.
Leather Naturally has made a big achievement in jumping to over 300 members, well beyond the tiny core that got it going, but only when that number reaches 3,000 will the leather industry will start to have the finances to make a wide and deep impact; and that is still only a fraction of the stakeholders who depend on leather. If your company or country is not supporting the institutions needed to fight for the long-term future, you need to act.
Without a wider industry commitment, little can be achieved. One clever TikTok campaign or programme on Instagram is good but soon gets lost among the crowd. We must unite. If we can get the big leather using brands to join in then our national and international activity can do so much more, not just today but year after year as any good branding requires.