Bringing in the students

Mark Wilkinson in Hong Kong.
Mark Wilkinson in Hong Kong

One of the purposes of going out to Hong Kong is to attract new students so a look at our photo will let you know that Dr Wilkinson has been doing really well and that next academic year the Campus will be significantly brighter……….sadly no. Most of these are models from the centenary show although hidden in there is also Juan Pablo Salazar, a second year student and the youngest member of the Corium Club present – who proposed the toast.

In fact the School must be a bit unsure about next year as the recession has hit the trade so badly. On the other hand the cost has dropped hugely so coming to the BSLT is a lot cheaper than a year ago. In a downturn innovation, marketing and training are the three things you should not reduce so this is a good moment to persuade all your friends and colleagues to sign up for Northampton.

The Northamptonshire Leather Cluster

Ian Michel of Amandian
Ian Michel of Amandian

We have just seen the launch of website which “promotes Northamptonshire’s World Class Leather Industry”. It was very well attended and held at SATRA who gave us a carefully planned tour so we could see fire proof material set on fire, learn about coefficients of friction (0.3 is the critical point), and worry about candles and furniture. Certainly SATRA has developed into a really significant body which is still supreme in the worldwide footwear industry but has been able to build critical mass by taking its skills into other industry sectors. Today they employ nearly 200 people mostly in the UK but with a few in China.

One of the speeches was given by Ian Michel of Amandian who talked about being a leather merchant and the involvement his family has had with the leather industry since the 1850s. It is timely that this is being launched in the centenary year and it does seem that everyone in the East Midlands is excited by events. I was not so sure about holding all the main events in the middle of the summer but it looks as though both the Saturday and Sunday events will be busy in July. The Saturday 18 July 2009 is at the Park Campus University of Northampton and the Sunday is a tour of the old Bermondsey leather haunts with the archivists from the Leathersellers Company (the London Guild which has been so supportive of the University for many decades and who built the original Leathersellers College in London that opened in 1908) followed by lunch at Leathersellers Hall.

So while the industry is still somewhat under a cloud with the recession and we could all manage to get really miserable if we wanted this is an opportunity to meet old colleagues, remember old times and plan the next initiative.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Leather brings stability to a crazy world

Well we are having an amazing time right now. MP’s expenses are giving local newspaper an indication that if they work harder on interesting local events they can start to increase readership, which will naturally pull back some advertising. Heavy discounts have questions being asked if consumers will ever pay full price and certainly whenever I do a pricing lecture I spend a lot of time on the many things you can get for nothing – not just browsers and other Internet things. M&S are going to sell 250,000 items for a penny. And one little niche of the world is growing like crazy with Twitter and I have just this week had the amazing experience of being “retweeted” a few times. We may think that this is only for nerds but you’ll find companies like Zappos there and Natuzzi and a watch over the word “leather” is good training for anyone involved in promoting leather. It is a mad and compulsive medium, certainly, and will have to evolve, but that does not make it irrelevant for understanding the consumers who buy our leathers.

Right now applications are coming in for the centenary weekend in July and it looks like dinner on the 18th July will be a big event with indications that we quite a few overseas people will be turning up as well as some old names from the BSLT. At the moment we are getting excited by the establishment of the website which “promotes Northamptonshire’s World Class Leather Industry”. It is a huge site and well worth going through in detail but what really surprised was the number of companies involved in leather in the Northampton area today. One tends to think only of the BSLT, SATRA and BLC but if you thinks a little more broadly about the raw to retail side of leather and all your friends and contacts in the area you quickly run up to over 100 businesses of all sorts. So a look through the directory is one great way to catch up on who is doing what.

The site navigation is a bit geeky but if you are patient and go back if you get lost you will find it OK. I can’t complain as my website is probably worse in that regard. You will find a section on the centenary and the Saturday 18th entry is as follows:

Saturday 18 July 2009 Park Campus University of Northampton

Centenary celebration and awards evening

Daytime excursions to heritage sites in Northamptonshire during the day, including Althorpe House, the ancestral family home of the late Princess Diana, The Shoe Museum and the Leather Conservation Centre. For those who studied at the University, visiting the BSLT, meeting staff and other alumni will bring back happy memories.

Awards Evening; at the University, Park Campus. The evening will open with a drinks reception, followed by a sumptuous banquet and fashion show featuring leather fashion, accessories and designs created by students within the Fashion Division at the University. The evening will culminate with the Awards Ceremony, honouring those who have made a significant contribution to leather education and have influenced the leather industry.

There are other details on the conference on the Friday and a visit to London Leathersellers haunts on the Sunday but more of those later.

14th May 2009

Innovating for Extremes

As I get back on my feet after my accident I am slowly being allowed more trips so I am off on Wednesday to talk to the Innovations for Extremes Conference (Innovex_09 ) on Cradle to Cradle in leather on Wednesday. I enjoy working with Mary Rose and Mike Parsons at Lancaster University who run it and it is useful and rewarding to stay in touch with the Outdoor industry. This year’s conference is being streamed live on the Internet.

Getting Leather Back on Solid Ground

The last few days has seen swine flu pick up all the media attention and we must not ignore the implications for the leather industry with Egypt deciding to slaughter some 300,000 pigs for no good reason. Think of the impact on the leather industry if this were to happen in China where pigskin makes billions of feet of leather. I appear to have got myself into a discussion with a chap on Twitter who sees the Egyptian action as in part an Islamic move against the Coptic Christians. Whatever the truth is we do know that as the world’s population increases intensive, industrial type farming is putting people in much closer proximity to animals and increasing the likelihood of illness being transferred from animals to humans. A crowded world creates problems for the leather industry.

At the same time the New York Times publishes an article telling us that eating red meat is bad for you (Paying a Price for Loving Red Meat-A new study shows that red meat has had a severe impact on our health and longevity: ), and James May says some stupid things about leather in his weekly column in the Saturday Daily Telegraph – read this and the readers’ comments. Then you go on YouTube only to find that tens of thousands people have been watching the CEO of Pittards having to defend his activities in Ethiopia. After all that who would be a tanner?

So thank goodness that the marketing side of my can find in this week’s Harvard Hotlist and item: In a Recession, Put Everyone in Marketing – Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Now this is a subject I can live with.

Mike Redwood

04 May 2009