What is a trade fair for? Meeting alumni is a good start.

John Basford toasting the corium club
John Basford toasting the corium club

For those alumni who rushed from Hong Kong to Bologna this has been a hectic few weeks. Some even have added the Portland material show, more of an athletic than a leather one, but important none the less.

Why do we do all this travelling? Especially for so many who despite an improving trade are still travelling economy class on long haul flights. It is simple. For all the value of email, LinkedIn and Skype face to face meetings still make a difference. And do not forget the word   “serendipity”. The pressures of the modern world, which include email, LinkedIn and Skype, mean that we all tend to get trapped into our own little silos of work and often do not get the chance to look up and out. A week sailing across the Atlantic and meeting all sorts of interesting business people has been replaced by being crammed into a tiny seat for eight hours, putting on shades and earphones and trying to get through in oblivion. If you are lucky to be nearer the front your little bed booth ensures that talking to another passenger is effectively forbidden. Considering how so many new ideas come from the interface of quite different business sectors this loss of opportunity is dreadful.

Our small stand was busy throughout APLF
Our small stand was busy throughout APLF

A friend from Dyson joined me in one of my lectures yesterday and I was astonished to realise half way through that two of their technologies – one now discarded and the other in use for something else – look like they could make sense in industries as far apart as tanning drums and aero-engines. So what trade fairs do is give us a chance to actually meet and talk to colleagues from all backgrounds. Sometimes just a minute or two in a corridor is enough to discover a new value in an old relationship or raise that unexpected thought that will help your business move forward. And of course the peripheral benefits of travel to trade fair towns cannot be underestimated. Seeing the young shoppers cramming into stores in Hong Kong while the new frugality in the west is emptying the malls in the UK. Seeing the new trends and colours in Bologna, not just in the show but what is in the shops and being worn in the streets. These are the unseen benefits which transform a trade fair visit to a whole experience of rejuvenation and put the excitement into the coming months of business.

And one key value in all this is if you can get together with your alumni and mix up all this new knowledge of how the leather trade is moving and changing throughout the world with the delight of meeting old colleagues and close friends from years past. We are all nostalgic in one way or another, and we all enjoy catching up with friends we studied with. Facebook is a useful addition to the tool of staying in touch, but it is not a replacement from touching flesh and sharing a conversation over a beer. So it was in Hong Kong where back in its old independent quarters the Corium Club returned to its normal simple format. A few drinks, no speeches, a toast but no speeches and two hours or so of conversation as colleagues from every corner and most years in the last forty or fifty got together to catch up.

John Basford, Rachel Garwood and Mike Redwood head the Innovation at Northampton conference
John Basford, Rachel Garwood and Mike Redwood head the Innovation at Northampton conference

For the newly formed Institute for Creative Leather Technologies the next stage in the 21st century for the BSLT the fair was busy. One delight was the large number of actual student enquiries which were higher than we are used to. The test will be to see how many can be converted into seats on chairs in October with higher fees and tougher visa rules. The International relations work in terms of offering courses to be taught in foreign locations with 21st century distance learning methods and workshops in the Northampton tannery also went well, as did our push for the Northampton Leather M.Sc. which is a fabulous higher degree for a young scientist to get into the leather trade or an experienced industrialist to learn about leather.

One thing that is clear as that taking leather in terms of everything that happens from the cow to the final consumer both the UK and the global leather industry offers young people many good careers. There are exciting times ahead.

Mike Redwood
15th April 2011