Dr Mike Redwood examines the reasons behind a lack of leather knowledge in the general population and the efforts in the industry to combat this problem, writes ILM
Leather Naturally Board Member, Debbie Burton, speaks at the ILM/APLF conference in Dubai.
It has always been a surprise to be shown how much can be learned about an entire population from asking a mere 2,000 people, as long as the process of selection is precisely carried out to give a representative sample. In fact, in recent years, the top market research firms have reduced this to 1,000, but most researchers prefer to stay with 2,000 after generally good experiences.
The recent research into consumer attitudes toward leather, carried out jointly by LeatherUK, Leather Naturally and the ICLT, used this methodology and produced some fascinating results. For readers who spend time in the narrow world of leather social media, it has been well promoted since the start of the year, and a full copy can be downloaded free of charge.
Yet, really putting it in its full context, Debbie Burton, one of the volunteer industry executives giving their time freely to Leather Naturally, went through it in an excellent talk at the ILM/APLF conference on March 29, the day before APLF Dubai.
The impact of a new world of dramatically increased urbanisation and other macro-environmental changes in the last decade or so is apparent, and the report was reflective of the big ongoing changes happening in work, climate, food and clothing.
Leather remains well thought of by most consumers but is totally surrounded by confusing messages. Large numbers do not know that leather is from animals, while many of those who do know think that the animals are specifically killed for leather and all consumers are bamboozled by the nomenclature used by competitive materials. In particular, there was quite a bit of anger expressed when consumers were told that “vegan leather” is nearly always plastic while quite a few had no idea at all what polyurethane (PU) is.
Do not worry too much, Burton pondered: 13% could not identify where wool came from either and a quarter thought silk was a plant. So, what is clear is that education matters more than anything and is where all our efforts need to start. Other studies have shown that younger consumers in particular do not know where leather comes from.
This includes China and Germany, although I do not think the leather industry believed the German figures when they appeared a few years ago. Over a decade, this separation between the younger generation and agriculture was being recognised with comments that “milk comes from the supermarket” rather than the cow.
It is also clear that the by-product reality resonates far more loudly than many people, including myself, have believed. It seems so obvious, but in fact, needs to be reiterated time and again. Given that we are still missing a lot of U.S. hides and most UK sheepskins from our tanners through the lack of realisable value, while consumers buy low quality plastic articles, the requirement is obvious. This is a waste that climate change and biodiversity cannot afford.
The research also showed that interest in buying less, looking after and repairing objects, while taking onboard concepts like “impact per wear”, are gaining strength among consumers. These fall perfectly into the true narrative of leather. With the industry having some great educational material freely available, mostly already in multiple languages there is every reason for each one of us, supported by our companies, to get out to everyone from schools to consumer groups to brands and retailers and educate, educate and educate.