Caution is necessary. The need to promote the excellence of Italian leather. The value of the district model. These are the three cornerstones around which on 14 December 2021, in Milan, the Annual Assembly of UNIC – Italian Tanneries took place, which is the most important global association in the tanning sector (member of Confindustria and Confindustria Moda) representing about 1,200 companies, 17,500 employees and directing 75% of its annual production to exports.

Caution is necessary
“The still ongoing health emergency requires the utmost causion”.

Fabrizio Nuti, president of UNIC

These are the words of Fabrizio Nuti, president of UNIC at the turning point in the first year of his mandate. A caution that the progression of sector data considers necessary. “We left each other at the end of 2019 with some declining indicators: turnover -6%, production -9%, exports -8%. Between February-March 2020, violent and completely unexpected, the pandemic hit us “and, at the end of last year” we recorded significant drops in terms of turnover (-23%), production (-16%) and exports (-25% )”. Then, 2021 arrived, which is coming to an end and “was characterised by supply difficulties and the increase, even in double digits, of leather and chemical products, of energy costs that are pushing inflation”. A particularly complex economic context, in which “at the end of the year margin losses must be avoided” and which expresses a “turnover at +23%, exports +25%, production +13%, with widespread (and often double-digit ) increases in all the main districts and on almost all production segments by type of animal and intended use. On this last point it is worth noting the important recovery of leathers for the furniture sector occurred in the last two years, after more than 10 years of constant downsizing”. In conclusion, the values ??remain between 5 and 20%, below pre-pandemic production and turnover levels, “but we hope that 2022 will reveal a return to almost complete normality”.

Promoting the excellence of Italian leather
“It is important to let everyone know that what has been done in Italy in terms of investments searching for completely circular sustainability – says Nuti – has not been done anywhere else in the world. This is a fact and it is not up for debate”. However, “the presence of foreign entities less attentive to social, safety and environmental problems ends up damaging the image of the entire sector”. We therefore need to strengthen the “cultural, educational, social work” that UNIC has been carrying out for years “by intensifying the communication activity towards key stakeholders”. In fact, “the demand for new and increasingly valid sustainability claims by fashion or design ends up fueling unscrupulous marketing and inflating disproportionate media attention”. The reference is to all “innovative, bio-based or whatever they like being called” materials that continue to appear on the market placing themselves “in open competition with leather. There is certainly room in consumption for diversified choices and the tanning industry has no problem with competing. But it is undeniable that these competitors conquer greater spaces in the media, basing their strategy on the constant denigration of tanning, leather and on the assumption of an alleged superiority in terms of sustainability and performance: a superiority that to date has never been supported by facts”. Indeed, a research “by the German FILK Institute has put 8 of these new products under the microscope, documenting how their technical performances have little or nothing in common with those of our material”. Not just that: “The same study revealed that the much claimed sustainability of these materials is seriously compromised by the need to use massive doses of synthetic components”. Hence, only leather is better than leather. It seems like a wordplay, but it is the absolute truth.

The value of the district model
According to Nuti, the district model is the winning matrix of the Italian tannery to be defended and enhanced: “Our production reality has always based its value on a territorial system that feeds it and in turn is nourished by it. We cannot fail to recognise that the development and success of us small and medium-sized enterprises is due to the districts and their systematisation of the Italian tanning model, that remains unique in the world. They have been a strategic place for the development of environmental policies: we have innovated products and processes, energy savings, raw materials, reduction of scraps and waste and recycling”. It is therefore necessary to “enhance what exists, bringing together the skills of everyone, promoting improvement and dialogue with institutions to make choices that go towards the ecological transition, proposing and stimulating training and information courses”. Because even though it is possible to race alone, you win together, thanks to the awareness that “the Italian tanning industry system is unique”, concludes the president of UNIC.