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At a Burns Supper (a Scottish traditional dinner to celebrate the poet Robert Burns) organised by my old school last week, I sat next to a classmate who has spent his entire career at the leading edge of the electronics industry. Much of his time was working in Japan alongside the top Japanese companies that drove the sector forward in the 1970s and 1989s.
As we sat at the table reminiscing over our long careers he quietly made the point that all the exciting things he had been involved in developing and introducing to market were now obsolete. Technological advances have been so dramatic that the entire marketplace has been transformed time and time again, and many of the businesses are closed or changed beyond recognition.
The leather industry has also changed quite a lot in the last forty years but, mostly, this has been a matter of relocation and renovation. From a world of old city centre plants lacking space or inclination to build waste treatment facilities to new single floor open plan layouts more often in emerging markets to follow footwear and garment production. Yet, while much more sophisticated than before, what was going on inside these new tanneries was fundamentally the same. The good tanner should always be able to earn a living. Given that the forty-year working life is steadily giving way to the fifty- or sixty-year one this is important. While lifetime learning will remain vital, leather professionals will not see their entire industry obsoleted.
We could argue that the new urban world of metal, glass and gadgets does not need leather so complacency would be foolish; but it does appear that leather helps overcome the alienation of awakening to a world largely devoid of nature. The look of leather, the touch of leather and the smell of leather humanises the smart phones we hold and the rooms we enter. Well-made leather is the antidote to the discomfort of the technical planet. It should not be obsoleted any time soon.
And by the way if you are doubtful of the importance of a Scottish poet called Robert Burns have you ever been to a Byron Breakfast or a Dante Dinner? Or bought a Shakespeare sandwich? Robert Burns remains a globally celebrated poet and lyricist.
23rd January 2017
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