Innovation at Northampton

Prof Nick Petford (Centre) with Rachel Garwood and Paul Evans in the University tannery
Prof Nick Petford (Centre) with Rachel Garwood and Paul Evans in the University tannery

The industry group of the UK Leather Federation had an unusual hour yesterday as for the first time they met face to face with all the various areas of the University whose skills have a bearing on the way leather is made or consumed. The obvious areas of waste management and fashion presented but others such as nVidia (the 3D visualization tool), psychiatry and podiatry got to meet the tanners for the first time.

This is a new step for the University in which the Vice Chancellor, Nick Petford, is keen that schools and institutes with industrial links should start to focus more on research, continuous professional development and consultancy as we move into a new era of University financing.

The afternoon coincided with an announcement about the new ways in which leather will be taught at Northampton with a greater emphasis on the University getting out into the marketplace to teach courses in situ in factories or in nearby institutions with shorter visits to Northampton to use the tannery. M.Sc. courses will remain residential in Northampton offering a great career path to science graduates with no clear idea of where to seek work. Here is the full press release:

New ways of studying Leather Technology at Northampton

From September 2012 The University of Northampton will offer its undergraduate programmes in Leather Technology internationally by flexible modes of learning. This will be achieved through the new Institute for Creative Leather Technologies.

Northampton courses will be delivered in collaboration with key strategic partners around the world allowing students to gain a quality assured University of Northampton qualification in their home country. Agreements are already in place with the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore and the Associazione Culturale Olga Fiorini in Milan. Negotiations are underway with institutions in India, China and Brazil.

This new flexibility will support modular, accredited CPD, making Northampton courses and qualifications much more accessible to those already working in the leather and leather-using industries.

As these exciting new programmes are being rolled out, the University’s portfolio of traditional, full-time courses in Leather Technology will be slimmed down, allowing the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies to focus its physical resources on accredited CPD for industry, leading to formal qualifications, and multi-disciplinary research and development.

To support this, following the £800k upgrading of the tannery and public areas of the Leathersellers’ Centre (co-funded by the University and the Leathersellers’ Company), a new research laboratory will be created in the Centre during summer 2011.

Dr Mark Wilkinson
Director: Institute for Creative Leather Technologies

So this is a big change and a moment for new initiatives the first of which we saw yesterday.

Michael Redwood
27th January 2011

Hot in São Paulo

Gustavo Quijano of COTANCE
Gustavo Quijano of COTANCE

It’s Tuesday and it is hot in São Paulo, and late afternoon some of the suburbs are flooded when a huge thunderstorm fills the skies with incredible rain for an hour. The lights and power go out at Cuoromoda and the 2nd International Leather Forum is nearly brought to a stop.

But the leather forum makes it through having heard quick punchy presentations on the state of trade from the perspectives of the ICT, EU, China, Africa, Brazil, and the USA. All have now come to the conclusion that was coming apparent a few years ago but many were rejecting. Supply of hides and skins from red meat is slowing and in many places declining. As world human populations continue to grow supply of hides will not keep up.

Defining leather is not easy

The second agreed point is that companies making products from leather have options they did not have fifty years ago. They can substitute leather with textiles and other materials including plastics of various types. And many of these plastics, or “synthetics”, are getting very good.  As hide prices are high right now the synthetics are getting more market share and the tanners have suddenly realised that they have allowed the definition of leather to be left behind by events of the last twenty years, and have not protected it.

Synthetic materials are stealing the marketing claims and even the name of leather with impunity. The definition of when a leather is PU, PU Coated leather, or just leather with a PU coat upset the tanners who were lapse when definitions were set. Two things are clear. One is that the consumer is getting confused, often quite deliberately about what he or she is buying. The second is that if tanners intend to try and get a better definition for leather they had better move fast, before the EU endorses what is currently going through.

Making good leather is all that tanners do

Ron Sauer
Ron Sauer

My role was to discuss LeatherNaturally! and fight off some deliberately provocative comments from Ron Sauer that marketing is useless, promoting leather should not be undertaken and we should sit around and let tanners and their leather get squeezed into low margins forever. He did say that he was looking more from the demand side rather than the supply side. This is what the industry needs more of, but I do not believe that was what Ron was really doing.

If we had as an industry looked more at the consumers over the last twenty years our product would not only have been better defined, it would have been better promoted. What is more this would have made tanners and brands consider much more about upgrading middle and lower grades into quality leather rather than further confusing consumers by coating it with so much finish even tanners struggle to tell it from plastic.  Tanners should only be making leather, real leather, leather that looks like leather, and leather the consumer can tell is leather by touch, look and feel.

Mike Redwood

20th January 2011