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Leather making is difficult. What we are doing is “conditioning” a natural material to stabilise the structure against bacteria and adjust it to perfectly serve its required end use.
We start with a collagen matrix and we end with a collagen matrix. So it sounds simple: yet it is difficult, in part, as I had it explained to me at a dinner at ACLE in Shanghai in September, because very little reacts with skin. This is to be expected, since hides and skins are all about protection of the body, so the lack of reactivity is a vital element of that protection.
Consequently, tanners are a very busy group of people trying to make an engineered product from a highly variable natural base without losing the best aspects of natural characteristics. It is no surprise that we have little time to look up and check what is happening in the world. Yet, in our competitive world we do need to look up more and check what is going on in the world.
If you do not adapt, you will not survive
Right now there are a lot of quotes going round the Internet supposedly from Charles Darwin, author of Origin of the Species. Hardly any of them are true, but he did make it clear that those who prosper are the ones who most accurately perceive their environment and successfully adapt to it. If you do not observe what is happening around you and adapt, you will not survive; things change faster than you expect, and right now we have big changes in supply, in demand and in the supply networks. We live in times more complex than ever before.
For that reason we have to be careful not to respond with anger and instant reaction. Day after day we are seeing articles written about the use of animals, livestock destroying the planet with greenhouse gases, deforestation, animals being killed for leather, the processing of leather itself being dangerous and competitive materials that we know are dreadful being praised as somehow “sustainable”.
It is easy to call them out, and we must, and to decry the bad journalism involved. Yet, we need to be aware that while it is valid to make the point, it is rarely careless journalism we are facing. We are dealing with publications, editors and journalists who have an agenda: a group of people who have spent twenty years building to this moment. And they are backed by very big money that dwarfs what the leather industry can muster.
Many of the journalists are told what line to take and collect the easy information, a problem we have with some senior sustainability staff in the brands, but often we know better writers who have taken great care to be accurate only to see almost everything edited out. Equally, the campaigners enjoy watching the leather industry wasting effort producing responses that rarely get published in print editions and disappear in the pages on comments online. For them tanners wasting large resources in defence is useful.
In the 1990s the leather industry argued that we should not campaign for leather as it would only stir up trouble; in the 21st century, until 2015, the industry said campaigning would only disturb pricing for a popular material and now, all of sudden, everyone wants to do it. In a very fragmented industry, we have started Metcha to build a communication with the younger generations that are being told cows and leather are altogether bad, led by rich influencers like Lewis Hamilton saying on social media “go vegan, it is the only way to truly save our planet today."
Shortly afterwards he took this down, no doubt realising how hypocritical, as well as inaccurate, it was. Given that agriculture’s footprint, in which livestock is only a part, comes after power generation, transportation and industry in significance for greenhouse gas generation, he was repeating a myth promoted by animal rights and vegan funding.
So we have two tasks to do quickly: Look at and understand what is going on, so we can react and adapt in a positive rather than a negative way, and be willing to step out of our national, regional and sectoral silos and work as one to promote our natural material against inferior alternates.
October 16, 2019
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