by Mike Redwood
It is Tuesday and I am sitting in a coffee shop in the City of London, waiting to have lunch in a Hall owned by the historic Company of Girdlers. The Girdlers are what are called a “Leather Livery Company” alongside the Leathersellers, the Saddlers, the Glovers, the Cordwainers and a few others. They are curious because the market for their type of leather girdle ceased at the end of the 16th century, but as they were quite rich and wanted to carry on supporting the City of London and the British Crown, along with schools and charities they still exist today. The piece of land on which their current Hall – their fourth Gall, since they lost one in the Great Fire of London and the next to bombing during the Second World War – is built they have owned since 1431. The leather industry has a long illustrious history.
Coincidentally beside me in the coffee shop, preparing for a more serious business meeting, is a smart young woman in a very fashionable beige leather skirt. Perhaps it is the spring weather, and certainly it is partly the nature of the City of London but that ugly word “athleisure” is nowhere to be seen.
This is not a forecasting column, and certainly there appears to be no end in sight of observing people in shorts and flip-flops going into the First-Class seats on flights, yet everyday athletic wear is definitely slowing. For some the trend has moved upmarket or slipped towards pure sports gear. Either way space is being left for smart casual and new formal wear that leaves much more room for leather to exploit.
Even as a trend might be ending much of the more ordinary world will continue wearing their old trainers and fleece jackets, but hopefully the word will get soon through to them about the danger of microplastics in the sea, and even, according to a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, in remote areas on land. This study shows that during five months of measuring in a pristine mountain catchment in the French Pyrenees, daily counts of 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibres per square metre were being deposited. Some of these tiny particles were estimated to have travelled up to 95 km suggesting microplastics can reach and damage life in sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport.
It really is time to get consumers out of fleece jackets and so-called athletic wear into healthy leather footwear, that breathes and shapes the feet, and warm shearling jackets in the winter, with neat nappa ones for the spring and summer. As João Carvalho said in Alcanena – the Portuguese leather capital – a little while ago: “plastic is not at all trendy, leather has to harness the opportunity”.
The market segments are changing fast right now, as a new generation is starting to take over senior positions at quite a fast rate. The age profile of boomers in many parts of the world means that retirements are about twenty per cent above what we have been used to. Generation X is not big enough, nor it would seem, interested enough to fill all the managerial gaps so in many cases we are jumping to the younger Y group for talented management. Certainly, the nature of work is changing and with that a return to full formal is not required, except in some parts of the City of London like Livery Halls where curious hats and gowns still get paraded amidst the dark suits and ties. Nor do we need to move a hundred percent to tweedy wear or what is being called “Balmoral streetwear”, but a return to elegance for certain groups and parts of the week would be a welcome return to our lives and wardrobes. Especially so if we bought sustainable leather, rather than plastic which is killing the planet. And even more so if in buying leather we recognised we are buying items than will last and do not fit into disposable fashion. Items that we will care for and possibly have repaired.
With her neat footwear, fashionable leather skirt and matching handbag, and her presentation well-ordered I am sure the young lady I met in the coffee shop had a successful meeting.