Travelling, travelling, travelling.

There is one thing to discover about blogs and that is that when postings are slow it does not always mean discourtesy or that I have nothing to say; perhaps that things are just too hectic. Anyway so it has been these few weeks when between trips to a Board Meeting in the USA and a holiday in a very wet and windy Cornwall (with an excellent meal in Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant) I have had to rush between Brussels and Vienna.

Brussels is fascinating for the British these days. It is not Paris, and indeed that is part of the fascination, yet it retains a lot of natural charm for someone who just wants to relax after or during a busy schedule. It does not have the dramatic sights and museums to see but it has good food and excellent beer – and you can walk everywhere.

Even better for the UK is the fact that the train is now only 1 hour and 50 minutes so I was able to leave Brussels at 8am on Friday morning and get back in good time lunch before my regular 1pm marketing lecture at the School of Management at Bath University. I was in Brussels for a chat with COTANCE on the future of the leather industry as part of a UNIDO project. Both COTANCE and ICT have lost a huge amount of power and authority since I started in the industry but it is clear that COTANCE members are now keen to deal with the reality as they see it, and are thinking positively. After so many disastrous decades it does appear that we do have a better understanding of the issues and how to manage them: I was much surprised by the clarity and constructiveness of the COTANCE view of the future. And I liked St. Pancras and the Eurostar.

Testing, testing, testing

There is no doubt that the brand “made in China” has been greatly damaged by the safety and quality issues related to pet-foods, toys and other products over the summer. Some of it is justified as makers cut corners to save costs but many of the complaints were actually the outcome of bad design by the importer or very lax quality control by major western brands who should know better. Time and again we see companies caught out by not being aware of subcontracting going on.

The outcome has been to give a real opportunity to the many testing houses in the world to extend their reach. In his 1994 ALCA lecture on the last 50 years of the industry said that looking forward “technical specs will become stricter and more complicated requiring highly sophisticated R&D departments and physical/chemical testing labs as well as more sophisticated quality assurance systems.” How right he was, and if you are involved in sourcing so far away the needs for total assurance are now even stronger. In the leather industry most of us now deal with brands, and the consumer expects that a brand will take proper care in these matters. Indeed that is why a brand can command our loyalty and charge a premium.

Over the years there have been quite different levels of profitability in different areas of our cow to consumer network and testing looks like being a favoured area for the future.

Collagen to Leather

Many readers of this will be aware of the new text “from collagen to leather – the theoretical background” written and privately published by staff from BASF lead by the industry’s good friend Tilman Taeger. It perhaps is indicative how many senior people are coming towards retirement that we are finding so many excellent books being published. This is one of the best and fills two gaps – one we knew existed in putting together all the recent knowledge on collagen – and one we didn’t – helping us understand the role of water and more about the 50% of the hide that does not make it into leather.

I will review the book fully at a later date, but those wanting a copy can apply to The book cannot be bought and I am sure all Corium club members will qualify to be sent a free copy. The book puts in context all the work Prof Tony Covington has been doing in the last decade at the University of Northampton and highlights the leading role this research has taken in this vital subject area. Highly recommended to all involved in leather technology.

Mike Redwood

Thursday, 13 December 2007