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It has been hard to get through my planned summer reading this year with so much happening, but I am determined to find time to complete a book by James Rebanks called The Shepherd's Life. Rebanks is a traditional shepherd who keeps Herdwick sheep in the Lake District of England. He has become well known via his Twitter account @herdyshepherd1.
The campaign for wool is one that we, as tanners, have always admired and Leather Naturally! supporters are now considering something similar for 2016-2020. Reading this book makes it very clear why the wool industry needed to take such action. Wool from Herdwick sheep is perfect for long lasting carpets, insulation and some types of casual jackets since it is quite hard and wiry. It has struggled against modern synthetic textiles. In the Peak District, there are towns entirely built on wool wealth. Today it depends on tourism as do a multitude of other famous English towns that grew out of the wool trade.
Today the "Herdy Shepherd" takes the wool off his sheep for health and hygiene reasons and sells it for what he can get. Usually this is less than half the cost of removal. Keeping sheep is tough now and the value of the wool is rarely part of the equation.
A lot of the talk at the recent round of trade fairs was about the huge amount of traditional leather market share that has been lost to synthetics, while raw material prices have been high. Synthetics have upped their game and offer a formidable challenge; with cheap oil and economies of scale helping them they are not conceding easily now that raw prices have slipped back. Some years ago, at the start of Leather Naturally!, we heard comments that leather was like a rare fine wine and it would become more profitable and expensive as time went by. No one says that now. Tanners are engaged in a battle for survival now, and if we do not fight for leather with education, promotion and innovation, leather will be lost to ever narrowing niches.
Up until now programmes have purely been about push the benefits of leather through the system. This needs to change. To prosper we must persuade the consumer of the value of leather and get them to ask for leather in the store, at the automobile forecourt or on line. We need to pull leather through the system not only give it a push.
Listen to the podcast here: Dontfollowsheep.mp3
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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