The Northampton Study

The Northampton Study is a project we have been working on over the summer to gather the opinions of generation Y about leather. This study was used in part for a paper on consumer power in the leather industry given to the Centenary Conference of the Textile Institute in Manchester by Rachel Garwood and I earlier this month.

We struggled a bit to get enough responses during the summer but so far the results have been very consistent and we are comfortable to develop arguments from them.

First young people do like leather, but they see it mostly as a luxury or fashion item rather than the essential every day material that it was to their parents and grandparents. They are very well aware of issues related to raw material, to processing and environmental problems and to labour in developing countries. Not in detail of course but enough for awareness and concern. Yet few would allow these to stop them purchasing and a high percentage say that they trust the brands to manage these issues for them.

Consumers want to repair, not throw away

What these and other questions we asked do tell us is that there is a great need to undertake some consumer education to put the real facts out into the discussions which run through the press using pejorative anti leather and anti meat language. Be it about animal rights, toxic chemicals and sweatshop labour good science and education of designers, retailers and the public is needed. From the responses we have animal welfare is the strongest issue for the young, followed by labour issues in overseas factories. And in some material published by certain groups there is a definitive move to make young people believe that any idea of eating meat or using leather is a bad thing. Now we know that many vegetarians are actually happy to buy leather and even to design articles using it, but if these anti-leather views are allowed to insinuate themselves into the mind of the next big generation of shoppers leather will have a problem.

Another interesting point is that high up amongst the priorities of generation Y is a strong demand for articles of leather to be able to be repaired. It is hard to see how this squares with the throw away society that buys a Primark top for a single use at a party with a wish to repair a leather handbag but this view was a very clear outcome. The purchase of a quality leather handbag is seen as a long term investment. The consumers know that leather generally wears very well and can look good for many years. They want to be able to keep it longer and to have it repaired in order to do so.  It is hard to actually think of a more positive statement that can be made about leather as a sustainable, quality, natural material.

Mike Redwood
18th November 2010

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