Portugal with ICLT

Over the last ten years I have become very identified with the University here, even although my involvement has always been part time and quite marginal.  It is odd as it means I get identified as an “academic’ whereas all my career has been factory based and it is in the factory where I am most comfortable.

Two weeks ago I went to Portugal to attend the third session of the EU Social Dialogue programme looking at the tanning industry in 2025. It involves a Brussels trade Union and about seven of the EU countries and has created a useful forum and pool of ideas albeit the ideas being put raised are  now tending towards extrapolating current trends forward and emphasising current lobbies. Hopefully in the December meeting in Glasgow we will really look at the future. It is not always an easy thing to ask of tanners and chemical companies, as to look ahead in public is sometimes to give away your future.

Although I am not representing the ICLT on these trips it has become normal for me to introduced as coming from Northampton, which is usually mutually advantageous, and it was good in Portugal as at the opening dinner I found that I was sitting next  to Antonio Carvalho (1984) who along with some other members of his family was able to give me a great rundown on all the changes in Alcanena since I was last there twenty years ago (about the time he was in college).

His plant makes steering wheel leathers and makes for an exceptional visit. It is both indicative of how the industry has changed and will change, and of the levels of individual IP that a tanner must have to stay in the game profitably.

I had only heard that Alcanena, and with it the rest of the Portuguese leather industry, had gone downhill in the last twenty five years, a view underlined by my own involvement in closing the ECCO tannery there in the early 2000s. Yet there has clearly been a rebirth based on local skills and brands after the foreign shoemakers left for Asia. I went to Guimaraes and met some exciting shoemakers and back in Alcanena there is no doubt that the tanning industry is in many regards a world leader.

What is also exciting is high amongst the management creating this new future fir Portuguese leather are alumni from Northampton.

Mike Redwood
10th November 2015