Good relations

Reg Hankey, CEO of Pittards, talks to the Textile Industry Hide to High Street Conference
Reg Hankey, CEO of Pittards, talks to the Textile Industry Hide to High Street Conference

Anyone who follows @ICLTleather on Twitter will know that last week the University of Northampton hosted a Textile Institute Conference on leather.  An attentive audience of industry personnel, with many from major brands, along with students from around the UK enjoyed what turned out to be a packed and fascinating day.  Even for industry insiders listening to Reg Hankey and Rachel Garwood explain how a modern tanning group works and the basics of leather were very welcome return to updating the fundamentals that so easily get forgotten in the rush of progress.  We had a thorough explanation of how new legislation on testing and management of banned substances from the point of view of the textile industry, which largely parallels leather and brought a wider perspective to the subject than tanners usually get to hear. A talk from the psychology department on the aspects of consumer purchasing added to the role of colour and fashion and the transfer of technology from Stahl moved the day closer to the consumer, a proximity strengthened by Guy West’s desire to make an Albion all UK shoe – a hope that may now come to fruition with the help of Reg Hankey of Pittards.  I had the closing role of discussing ingredient branding and LeatherNaturally!

A few pointers came from this excellent meeting.  Given that we have no end uses in which leather cannot be replaced by technical textiles or plastics and that leather is going to be in ever shorter supply in global per capita terms working more closely with the textile industry clearly makes sense and Rachel Garwood is to be congratulated for building links so that this event could take place.  Second it is clear that Sunley, with both a good room set up and affordable overnight accommodation, is a first rate conference venue. Being able to do tours of the tannery also offers a quite unique experience for delegates. The rolling lunch was amazingly successful and relaxed. There are quite a few photos from the event on the ICLT Facebook page.

Proposing the motion

A couple of years ago I was asked to propose a motion in a debate about sourcing from China at Prime Source Forum in Hong Kong.  This is a garment and footwear sourcing conference seen really as a venue for the textile industry and the brands. It has built a great reputation over the years and attracts about 1000 attendees, many in very senior positions. A “Doha” style debate using Oxford rules has become the traditional final item on the agenda and ours was chaired by the Editor of the Far East Wall Street Journal. I had Angela Peers as my seconder; Angela is a Professor in textiles at Manchester Metropolitan University. Opposing us was Thomas Nelson who is MD for Asia of VF corporation and Andrew Schroth a senior trade lawyer. We had great fun and while we clearly won the argument we lost the debate overwhelmingly and have regularly been back to redress the balance. What was significant, however, as Dr Mark Wilkinson said at the time, was that for the first time this put the University of Northampton onto the global stage for the brands and retailers along with all those in the sider supply chain.

Good science not flash headlines.

That is how it should be.  With our wide supply chain capability from fashion to materials science from raw material to podiatry and from psychology to management The University of Northampton is now well placed to be a central player in the global world of leather and all things related, including supporting some aspects of other materials.  Certainly being part of all the global discussions, and up to date is vital.

In the leather industry we have great problems with NGOs and other pressure groups who cherry pick the facts to develop an anti leather narrative. The textile industry is no different. As with the leather industry Greenpeace is making itself heard.  A lot of what Greenpeace says has to be listened to and we admire them for being better marketers and communicators than most companies in our industry.  But as I said in my talk to the textile institute a brand is only as strong as its weakest link. The problem for Greenpeace is that its love of headlines and of embarrassing the brands runs too far ahead of the facts and when we eventually get to the truth we discover that unnecessary harm has been done. The attack on Argentine tanners appears to have been totally wrong, the second attack on hides from the Brazilian rain forests was totally inaccurate and the first ignored the impact of soya and sugar cane so they could focus on the publicity to be gained by attacking high profile brands.

It looks like their textile Detox campaign is much the same and the are enjoying trashing great Outdoor brands who put considerable store by their environmentally sound approach, going for the headlines before anyone can properly think matters through. We are a scientific industry and these matters need good science rather than flash headlines.

29th October, 2012