Leathersellers Prize-giving day

So now we have reached the end of term which always arrives punctuated with a lot of interesting meetings for the non students. Perhaps the students enjoy them too, but the impact of actually having to turn up at exams may take away some of the pleasure.

For the BSLT we have the degree ceremony and also the now traditional prize giving in the Leathersellers Hall in London. This latter had the biggest attendance I can remember in many years with the staff having to bring in extra seats for all the standing visitors that turned up. There was pretty much a full attendance from students and staff plus many of those external colleagues who help on the technical committee (discussing issues with the students during the year and looking at the experimental tannery) and LIAC, the long standing Leather Industry Liaison Committee which meets twice a year to be briefed on, and to a degree advise on, strategic issues. All these along with the press and others filled this fantastic venue, and begin to demonstrate the excitement the invigorated leather school is now creating.

Ken Nokes was the main speaker. He is a Leeds leather graduate and one of the members of the LIAC group I have just mentioned. Ken has had a long career in the tanning industry before the biog decline of the 1980s much of it with companies that become part of the Garnar Booth and then Pittard Garnar set up – such as Russells and Wilson and Tilt. Latterly Ken has been working with SATRA from which he has just retired.

One really fascinating point which Ken raised is that he sees the growth in the leather and footwear industry in China slowing as a result of environmental issues, labour shortages and wage rises. This is perhaps good news for India, Pakistan, Brazil and most of all Africa.

Winners of the BSc Prizes awarded by Leathersellers were:

1st – Tanveerul Amin

2nd – Ankit Sondhi

3rd – Eldon Leo

Winner of the Leathersellers Certificate Award was: Zufair Ahsan

Winner of the Leather International Award was: Chen Guoying Kelvin

The Fashion Show now mainstreams leather

Another major event is the University Fashion Show which has now always got a major leather element. The Vice Chancellor has made it known that the Fashion School wins by having special courses in footwear and leathergoods design as well as utilising a lot of leather in the general clothing and fashion courses. For this we thank all those tanneries who have been so helpful in supplying leather each year. To demonstrate the very close relationship between leather and fashion at Northampton prizes were awarded by Cordwainers, Leathersellers, and Church shoes family foundation. Pittards leather was a sponsor of the event. The new technical team in the tannery, especially Paul Evans played a major role this year in working with the design students on the leather ideas.

New machinery for the tannery

The first of the new machines for the tannery – a new fleshing machine and a sammy setter – have now been bought and should be in place for the start of the new session. Discussions are on going on the rest of the equipment and the layout.

Michael Redwood

Tuesday, 03 July 2007

University cocktail party at the Leathersellers Hall in London

Just a few days ago I attended a University cocktail party at the Leathersellers Hall in London . It was not a leather event but one where the University makes use of the Leathersellers offer of a fabulous venue in London when they want to entertain and meet people. I get the impression that the BSLT used to keep the venue rather to themselves and Leathersellers are pleased to see this wider use being made.

In her talk at the event the Vice Chancellor Ann Tate picked out leather as a special area for the University with its wide range of advanced high level courses and strong international footprint. At the same time she highlighted growth in areas such as Business and Engineering moving much faster in Northampton than the UK national averages at this time.

Much of her talk was about the local community around greater Northampton area. First from a point of view of the huge financial importance that the University plays in the local economy and second how much the University prides itself on making education accessible to those who might not have expected to take a higher degree. Three thousand students pass through the University degree ceremonies each year.

Access for worldwide leather students

In a way our leather community is not unlike that around Northampton . It’s a small community albeit a global one and a community where many people know each other. It’s also a community where a lot of good technicians and tannery managers have skills that would allow them to achieve more but not the means or awareness to make the jump. At Northampton the BSLT have tried to help with grants and scholarships but while these remain important constraints of both time and money have been big barriers. Hence over the last few years a series of new courses which can be taught by distance learning have been rolled out. These include the M.Sc. course and a distance learning Leather MBA. At the same time we have seen a big growth in short courses tailored for individuals and small groups. These are mostly done in house but are also very successfully shared the team from newly established local company Leather Wise Ltd who themselves run some highly thought of courses for retailers.

Tannery development

To support all this the experimental and teaching tannery is vital so it is really good news that Mark Wilkinson has negotiated a big financial package for redevelopment. Some older machines overdue replacement will be changed and the experimental drum area will be largely rebuilt. One area where we have always felt somewhat deficient is in finishing where both space and equipment are lacking. Leather finishing has now moved on from padding and spraying and some of the activities worked on in our fashion school are more advanced than we have been able to do in the BSLT. So this time the plan is to make more space available to widen the scope of finishing and make an investment that integrates textile finishing as carried out in fashion closer to leather finishing. Mark will be spending nearly £1million on this. Any suggestions or financial help would be really helpful.

Mike Redwood

7thJune 07

Books for summer reading

It is curious that in the age of digital communications we have two of the best books on leather now available. Just coming out on June 1st is Faux Real: Genuine Leather and 200 Hundred Years of Inspired Fakes by Robert Kanigel. Corium club members who visited the centenary American Leather Chemists Conference in St Louis may well have met Robert Kanigel who has the curious title of Professor of Scientific Writing at MIT in Boston .

That gives the key to this fascinating book. Robert Kanigel has not spent his life in the leather industry nor is he a leather chemist. Yet he is able to discuss technical matters in an intelligible way and bridge that gulf we so often find between dry technical studies and the romantic novel. Instead of doing a chronology of the history of the industry his viewpoint is one of examining the many synthetic challenges to leather over the last two hundred years and interrogating the technical and marketing issues that have kept leather secure. As such this is a book which tanners will find quite irresistible. Visits to plants and locations around the world are discussed in detail as are discussions with many senior industry figures, a lot of whom are alumni or have close links with Northampton . Here you will find the author musing about Tony Covington’s comments on the complexity of tanning and Richard Daniel’s Back to Basics. So readers will find a book that is as hard to put down. It discusses aspects of our industry and how it has changed from an entirely unsuspected viewpoint and meanders through the familiar people, places and technologies that we understand so well. We have some new terms to consider – materiophilia, for those who love particular materials, the chrome tanning awareness period from 1884 to 1900 when chrome tanning failed to make real inroads into the traditional vegetable tanning methods, and the essence-of-hide, that “purified, almost sanitized collagen network, largely hairless, fatless and without extraneous proteins.”

This is a rare work not to be missed.

Curiously this follows on after a much drier work “Conservation of Leather” by Marion Kite and Roy Thomson that was published in 2006. Marion Kite is the Chairperson for the Leather Conservation Centre just round the corner from the BSLT and Roy was the Director there until his recent retirement. Before that Roy had a long career with Strong and Fisher. This book is about the conservation of leather and for those interested or involved this is clearly a must. The day to day tanner might be excused for thinking this book is not for them. It is heavy and quite expensive. Yet in a leather world that is short of good books, the first half of this text is exceedingly useful for the technician. It has a quite wonderful straightforward explanation of tanning materials and mechanisms by Tony Covington and another section on collagen and the fibre structure by the late Betty Haines.

Bob Higham walking the UK for charity

One of the chapters in the Conservation of Leather was written by Bob Higham (1959), who has been a prolific writer over the years. With many papers in the JSLTC he is perhaps best remembered for his years editing Leather International. Bob has spent the last two decades as a Minister in the Church if Scotland and in his retirement he turned up on my door step in Somerset in April. Bob is walking from John o’Groats to Lands End in spells of two ten day periods a year over a number of years. This is a 1200 mile walk form the north east tip of Scotland to the south west tip of England . Bob is doing this for a charity called the Indian Ministries Fellowship which supports homes in Tirutanni, Tamil Nadu, and gives educational support to children in Kolar Gold Fields and Chennai. He was just back from Tamil Nadu looking at how the money is spent and promised that he had not sneaked of on any tannery tourism. There will be more on this in the summer Palimpsest.

For those interested in technology development and innovation a new book by David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, should also be put into your shopping basket at Amazon. Apart from a picture of the Fray Bentos Frigorífico in Uruguay it’s not related to the leather industry but its down-to-earth examination of technology from the aspect of use rather than invention is much more realistic a view for someone working in day-to-day product development. Chapter headings on Time, Production, Maintenance, Nations, War and Killing give a flavour of the very different approach which the author, from Imperial College London, takes. Details of the use of the bicycle rickshaw and corrugated iron will create fascination among tanners, although even the flying toilet technology of the third world ghetto towns is not a recommended innovation to be further diffused

Talking of books the SLTC still have good supplies of their Leather Technicians Pocketbook which one major company has just purchased to hand out to every one of its technicians around the world. Equally no tannery can afford to be without a copy of the Official Methods which the Society currently has on special offer. Check their web site at sltc.org

Mike Redwood

Tuesday, 22 May 2007