Paris in September

Paris in September was for many decades an essential part of life in the leather industry. A trip to the Semaine du Cuir, the world’s most important leather show, was often written into a technician’s contract, while those working overseas always ensured their annual trip home to Europe coincided with the necessary trip to Paris. The chemical industry wined and dined you, occasionally you bought a machine, and you checked the market for that “new job”. All sorts of company personnel – from chief executives who rarely spoke to customers through finance directors found excuses to attend and use up huge proportions of the annual marketing budget on this one event.

Now the delightful little show Le Cuir à Paris has started to build itself an excellent reputation and a small number of European tanners use it to meet designers from top luxury brands. As a small show it is much easier to manage than Lineapelle where everything is so overwhelming that many designers only look at the same old companies every time. It also sits alongside Premier Vision and Mod’amont which take place at the same time at Paris Nord Villepinte. The only British exhibitors were L.H.Nichols of Yeovil.

This year the day before the show was taken up by the most unusual International Leather Forum, put on for the first time by the IULTCS and intended to bring together the top 100 people they could find in the leather industry from raw to retail. It was an excellent day although it must be said that most value was achieved in the morning sessions on education and research whereas the afternoon on marketing and crisis management rather lost its way.

The heavy emphasis on tanners getting updated with short courses came across as did the need for modular education so that finance and marketing people could learn something of leather. Both of these fit with the evolution of courses at the BSLT in Northampton and with the increasing number of enquiries and bookings being achieved. Cooperation between the schools is important and was encouraged, while large quantities of practical work were considered necessary. It is timely that the tannery in the BSLT is now being upgraded.

Getting research together is going to be much harder as funding keeps getting in the way. There is no evidence that tanners or chemical companies will fund research so every institution is on its own to fight for cash to pay for researchers and needed kit. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Protectionism on the agenda

The sessions on marketing missed the mark somehow, and we kept seeing issues of protectionism being raised, with countries like Brazil, Argentina, India and Pakistan – most of whom were represented – being the targets along with China. I struggle a bit with this as major European companies like CIBA and Philips and nearly all the US economy got going 100 years ago through the most aggressive protectionism and sometimes government help to let them steal patents from others. To some degree this demand for the perfect level playing equates with telling the Middle East we can give it perfect democracy. It may sound good but it is not realistic.

Allied to this is a date to note if you are in France on the 25th October. You will discover it is Leather Day and the French industry has prepared some print and even TV advertisements to support this. I am not at all convinced that the industry has the finances for this to be meaningful or is able to consistently replicate the concept in other countries. I am a fan of good PR, and for leather supporting this with sound science to take our case to the consumer and the brands be it about CrVI, Reach, kangaroo or seal skin tanning. And I think the industry has to deal with those promoting “chrome free” and “organic” as good while chrome leather gets improperly attacked. At least with chrome we know what we are dealing with and can handle it – many of the others are still somewhat unknown or have already been shown to have serious issues. Each tannage should be promoted on its own positive attributes, and not marketed by creating improper fear in what has been a good and effective method of leather making for the last century.

Mike Redwood

Thursday, 20 September 2007

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