It is time to push our industry forwardLeather Naturally has launched a global digital campaign specifically targeted at the world’s millennial generation and generation Z
by Mike Redwood – spokesman of Leather Naturally
We entered the autumn saying that the market for leather was slightly better than had been expected. That did not mean much, as the bar had been set low. Those returning from the 20th Edition of the All China Leather Exhibition in Shanghai had instead heard about unsold raw sheepskins being disposed of, and the general malaise around lower grades in all types of raw.
The problem is simple: marketing. Not marketing imagined as a veneer for selling what is already being made, of course, but true marketing that starts deep inside the tannery with the product. Marketing that helps build a product that actually fits with the hopes and expectations of the customers. Whatever the segment that a tannery works in it needs constant innovation and renewal that fits with the market.
Classic items do certainly still persist, and here the innovation can be is more hidden, with any major rebuild being underneath the surface. More commonly a series of minor adjustments in texture, softness, thickness and sheen can be made so there are many options possible when trying to discuss something new. Work with a designer for a few days and you will be surprised how many and how varied the samples are that you can produce.
This high productivity of new ideas is not possible with other materials. Afterwards the tanner is also likely to come away with some more fundamental ideas that will take longer to produce but offer a bigger leap forward in terms of creativity. Make this happen and you have learned the essence of co-creation. It may sound radical, but many successful tanners have been doing it for decades, without thinking of it as especially clever. It should now be mandatory.
It appears to be a problem of basic business teaching that subjects like “marketing” appear as a bolt on intended to increase either sales volumes or selling prices. Yet any marketing executive will tell you that marketing always fails if it is not culturally accepted all through the business and used to link everyday processes and product development to customers expectations.
Co-design of products helps with the “low-end”
What is more this sort of product development more often than not works strongest with the lower end of the raw stock. It does vary with the customer as some arrive with a predefined policy, but mostly they are interested in the outcome and eventually whether that outcome can be reproduced consistently in bulk. In reality the effects they are hoping to achieve often do not require the top grades which can be kept for a full aniline role. Even with a superficial glance at the world of so-called “streetlux” it is apparent a tanner should not rush to premium grade raw material but take the opportunity to utilise a wider grouping of input.
In fact many of the world’s most successful tanners tell us they are oversold on the lower end of their raw material purchases, and It sometimes said that tanners should sell these grades first, leaving the top to later. Early in my career I asked a renowned European tanner about this issue and he replied that grade was only “a matter of price”. Four decades on he would not say it today. Selling off the superior grades and being left with a warehouse full of hard to sell lower grades is a recipe for disaster.
The concept of co-creation has also changed the way marketing campaigns work. These days a co-created product made for a major retailer will likely be exclusive, and so promotional activity of a general nature will have to more a branding issue or around other leathers in the range. This does not mean that campaigns are not relevant, merely that they are different.
Hence it becomes more useful for the industry to unite for impact and try and work more together, with a common language and use of material. It is for this reason that Leather Naturally hope it can get broad support and financial backing for the recently launched global digital proposal. This is specifically targeted at the world’s millennial generation and generation Z. Both of these are far more homogeneous than any previous generation so a global approach to raise awareness for leather is achievable. It is also necessary as it has been shown that an ignorance of the origins and values of leather has increased rapidly as a result of urbanisation and leather industry silence this century has effectively meant stepping back and conceding the market to inferior competitive materials. Inferior in use and inferior environmentally.
At US$1.5m this is not an expensive campaign and a good amount has already been pledged as we go to print. With membership of Leather Naturally costing only $2000 a year a significant influx of new members, which we hope for, would also make a huge difference. The campaign does not mean the tanneries, regions or nations should back away; they are distinct and gave the consumer evidence of the breadth and depth of what we do, and of the versatility of leather.
But it is long overdue for our industry to come together and harmonise our messages and support this global push.