Communication and education are the key answersChristine Powley-Williams, SATRA assistant director-commercial, speaks about the new challenges
Christine Powley-Williams, SATRA Assistant Director-Commercial, is a real leather expert and has a wide-ranging background in product and materials testing and management within tanneries. She joined SATRA in 2009 and is a previous president of the Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists, where actually leads the IUL Commission for communication.
SATRA is an independent research and testing organisation established in 1919. It has technical facilities in the UK and China serving customers throughout the world. It is considered a leading technical authority for footwear and leather.
What does sustainabily mean in the leather industry?
“Leather is probably the original sustainable material as it is a ‘value added ‘material generated from what could be considered a waste product from the meat, dairy and wool textiles industry. Despite new ‘man made’ materials being available the demand for leather has never ceased and, indeed, the leather producing industry can struggle to have enough hides and skins available. Therefore, it is fair to say that no hide or skin is really wasted. The real challenge, however, is to produce consistent high-quality leather. SATRA’s leather grading system, which identifies the usability of the leather, is an established and recognised approach used in global supply chains to ensure quality is maintained and the end product is fit for purpose.
The production of sustainable quality leather requires commitment and hard work. You only have to look at tanneries nominated for Tannery of the Year or participants in the Leather Working Group to see many exemplar companies investing time and resource in corporate social responsibility, health and safety, environmental stewardship, chemical compliance, animal welfare and traceability – to compete globally, none of these aspects can be ignored. Key to sustainability is communication and education throughout the supply chain and a desire and commitment for continuous improvement. SATRA has been asked to join other organisations from different countries to work together on the transnational Ecotextyle project, an initiative aimed at stimulating debate, exchanging good practices and developing an online training portal for people involved in environmental management and sustainability in the footwear and leather industries”.
Who are the main customers of your laboratories and which are the most requested analyses and tests?
“SATRA has a very diverse customer base which represents predominantly the footwear, leather, leather products, personal protective equipment (PPE) and furniture industry supply chains. Typical customers would be brands, retailers, sourcing companies, components and materials manufacturers, footwear and other consumer product manufacturers who would access physical and chemical testing services to ensure that their products comply with safety and quality requirements. Often testing is driven by legislation such as the European PPE Regulation or REACH but also customers like the reassurance of working with SATRA as we are an internationally recognised laboratory. SATRA is accredited to the international standard ISO 17025 by UKAS – the United Kingdom Accreditation Service”.
Which are the big challenges of the leather sector in the next future?
“There are a number of challenges facing the leather producing industry currently and in the future. Recently the UK Leather Federation carried out a survey of its membership and the industry was asked this very same question. I feel the concerns raised are probably universal – with challenges such as misrepresentation of genuine leather and the impact of synthetic materials being increasingly used in products that were traditionally made from leather; maintaining a skilled workforce and finding ways of encouraging young people to enter the industry and retain them; and probably one of the biggest challenges of all – ensuring that the industry demonstrates all the positive things it is doing to counter the isolated examples of bad practice that impact so negatively on the industry”.
Can you tell us something about Satra’s most important research activities?
“Research has been at the heart of SATRA’s operations for 100 years. During this time, the contribution SATRA has made to the global footwear and leather industries is significant. This research continues to benefit many sectors and includes the development of innovative materials and components, the enhancement of product performance attributes, and the optimisation of production, for example SATRASumm a system that minimises materials waste in leather footwear production. Our research also leads to the publication of critical data, for example SATRA’s Global Foot Dimensions report which is the culmination of a four-year research project utilising 3D scanning technology to capture and assess thousands of feet in different regions across the globe. Aside from our independent industry projects and collaborations such as the European Ecotextyle initiative, SATRA conducts specific research for individual companies the results of which are confidential”.