Return to the Roots
First published in September 2010
Published: 04 October, 2010
I would like to introduce myself as a leather technician, owner and co-owner of tanning companies Heller-Leder, Helcor-Leder-tec and Südleder. Outside of my daily business activities I am also president of the German Leather Industry Association (Verband der deutschen Lederindustrie) and of the ‘German Leather Development Group’ (Forschungsgemeinschaft Leder).
It is no wonder that I am very fond of leather and its image as both my parents’ family histories are connected to the leather business, meaning that I am the 4th generation of my family involved in leather manufacturing. I want you to consider the following statements:
- Leather is a natural product
- Leather has specific characteristics which other materials do not have or not to the same extent
- Leather is distinctive
- Leather is valuable
- Leather arouses emotions
These five statements account for the image, the popularity and also the high demand for leather. Myself, as a leather-guy and leather technician who has been dealing from childhood with this fantastic material do, however, see a huge risk to leather in the future. During the 26 years that I have been professionally in the leather business this wonderful natural material has become more and more a product that is reduced to its technical characteristics and performance at the expense of its natural features. The technical properties are certainly important, but should in many instances be an additional feature and rarely the main reason to use the material. To meet some technical characteristics we are in danger of destroying what really makes leather special, ie its naturalness, the outstanding touch and comfort characteristics compared to other materials, its distinctiveness and the emotions which it should arouse – and with all of that the real added value. Why should I create a shoe lining leather that has an excellent perspiration fastness then apply a heavy finish on it to achieve good sweat rubbing fastness and thus negate the perspiration properties as the shoe is no longer able absorb the sweat? This is absurd. Why should I use a car interior leather that cannot be differentiated with regards to comfort, feel or touch from synthetic materials? Automotive leather is now such a good technical product that it still looks brand new after five years while the car exterior shows its age. The natural look and touch is gone before being fitted in the car. It’s more plastic than leather. Why should I buy a piece of furniture covered with leather that is resistant against all kinds of dirt and stains yet feels cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Leaving you sweating on it like sitting on piece of plastic foil? So much finish is applied that the natural appearance and handle is lost. Why should I have an object made out of leather that has been stripped of everything that might be a sign of its naturalness such as hair pores, healed hedge cuts and bruises? The visual difference with synthetic materials has become blurred or lost (the differences in comfort and feel we have ‘killed’ by making the material meet ever more demanding technical specifications). If this trend of viewing leather more and more as a technical product and no longer as a natural product with all its associated advantages but also with some disadvantages in order to maintain the naturalness, then we are running the risk of downgrading leather to the level of artificial materials. In my opinion we are already going too far as the difference, depending on the leather type, in technical properties, is making leather difficult to distinguish, even for the experts, compared with synthetics! Leather, once this happens, due to its premium price (hidden below huge amounts of finish in order to achieve the technical requirements) will increasingly lose more market share against other cheaper materials because nobody will recognise its value and, therefore, why should anyone pay more for it? Many hides simply don’t need to be corrected or buffed and can be processed with a natural grain intact. Natural leather is a premium material and can command higher prices. We should allow the leathers natural characteristics to show themselves. Therefore, my appeal to you is to try new ways by returning to old values, which our customers in the North American furniture industry have done so successfully. Approximately 25 years ago ca. 90% of all leather used looked rather like a plastic cover but, today, aniline leather is now resurgent with all its advantages and also the few disadvantages …what a change! Let’s try!
Taken from LEATHER INTERNATIONAL, the link to the website and original article can be found here: http://www.leathermag.com/news/fullstory.php/aid/14512/Return_to_the_roots.html