A straight, direct question to start with: how good or bad is it (in 2022) to be in the leather industry, particularly in the UK?
2022 has not been any easy year for any industry, including the leather sector. There are lingering issues from the Covid crisis with ongoing disruption to supply chains, increased costs for chemicals, labour and shipping. Many markets are still suppressed, e.g. the automotive sector in the EU, a significant market for leather, is still struggling with new registrations down 13.7% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. The situation in the UK has been exacerbated by Brexit, which has caused major issues with sourcing labour, added regulatory and import/export burdens, increased input costs and reduced customer confidence. While these are challenging times for the UK industry, the majority of tanners are busy and have good order books. This brings issues with meeting demand when workforces are reduced and there are increased lead times on delivery of raw materials and finished products but the UK tanners are managing for now. However, spiralling inflation and energy costs will undoubtedly have a significant impact and 2023 could be even more challenging.
Leather UK is over 100 years old, and 2022 is not 1908. How is Leather UK planning to position itself in a fast-changing world—a world that is in tumult?
I once heard trade associations described as being like insurance policies; you had to have them but you didn’t want to use them. The traditional model of the trade association doesn’t fit in the modern world. While we have to continue to provide the expected lobbying, statistics, updates on pending legislation, etc., Leather UK is also looking to be much more proactive in promoting leather, particularly with education for our customers and consumers. This means making the facts about leather more accessible, which we are doing with the new consumer area on our website, pushing back against misconceptions about the provenance and production of leather and also the alternatives to leather, which are frequently misrepresented. We aim to become the respected source of information about leather in the UK. Overall, we are striving to be a more agile and proactive body, and as one of our members suggested, ideally solving their problems before they know they have one.
Part of this involves greater collaboration with other leather bodies, such as COTANCE, Leather Working Group, LHCA, Leather Naturally and the ICT. Such collaboration gives greater reach and effect for all involved and has accelerated greatly in recent years. This has been most apparent in the challenge by a united leather sector to the wholly inaccurate score for leather in the Higg MSI. Here, the collected industry had provided unarguable data that the assumptions used in the MSI were incorrect, specifically the allocation of the impact of livestock rearing to leather. This conversation was effectively shut down following the ban on the use of the MSI on consumer-facing labels in Norway but we continue to highlight the failings in the Higg Index and are increasingly asked for comments by the media.