Articles

Shades of Leather

by Marc Lailvaux on Apr 09, 2024

Shades of Leather

One lazy weekend in the peaceful suburbs of Newlands, a casual lunch with friends led to an unexpected revelation about perceptions surrounding meat, leather, and their environmental impact. Amidst the pleasant chatter and clinking of cutlery, I overheard a spirited discussion nearby.

A group of university students passionately debated the merits of veganism. One young woman stood out, enthusiastically sharing her recent decision to embrace veganism. She articulated concerns about animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and personal health. However, her sweeping dismissal of leather caught my attention.

Her words evoked memories of a past business challenge where a brand told me our product. The very same product which they knew before the meeting came out of tannery was not"animal-free" more specifically "do you have any animal free leather". Thus, the alternative, and a competitor had overshadowed our product. The echoes of "Your product isn't animal-free!" triggered a memory. My love for rugby and sports is ever present in my life and the sentiments from the brand mentioned above brought back memories of similar sentiment in a rugby context of pundits saying Cheslin Kolbe is to small to play on the wing in international rugby... fast forward a couple years he's now a double world cup winner with the Springboks and touted as the one of the best players on the planet. However this is semantics. The point im making is how can you change something that is the very make-up of what you are. It's your fingerprint your DNA.

Reflecting on the rise of the "animal-free" trend—from historical alternatives like Presstoff to modern-day synthetic materials like PVC and PU—I realised how marketing strategies had shaped public perception. The rebranding of "vegan leather" and its association with sustainability had obscured the reality of leather as a by-product of the meat industry.

Contrasting viewpoints presented at a recent seminar highlighted the integral role of leather in sustainable agriculture. Speakers emphasised regenerative farming practices where livestock grazing not only supported soil health but also produced durable, biodegradable leather as a natural material choice.

The heart of the matter lies in educating consumers about the interconnectedness of food and material choices. Misconceptions had clouded the benefits of leather, diverting attention from its role in a sustainable economy. Instead of demonising livestock production, promoting responsible farming practices could foster a balanced approach to food and material production. But maybe it just takes is us as indsutry, as a collective to change the tagline. 

Listening to the passionate debate unfold, I realised the importance of dispelling myths and promoting factual knowledge. The future of the leather industry hinged on challenging misinformation and advocating for informed consumer choices, and that includes all LSM groups. 

In conclusion, the journey from a casual lunch conversation to a profound insight underscored the need for transparency in consumer decisions, but also in world where instant gratification is everything we as an industry need an "aha moment" to market ourselves in this new world  we find ourselves in. For me this is the key to upholding the value of leather as a sustainable choice required to addressing misconceptions and championing truthful narratives.