Inspiration for a greener tanning industry from the Arzignano tanning district.

COTANCE in dialogue with the CEO of Helsinki Fashion Week

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After banning leather from the 2019 Helsinki Fashion Week, CEO Evelyn Mora takes part in the last COTANCE council. Here’s what went down.

It is somewhat like blaming the gravedigger for the passing of the deceased being buried in the graveyard. The metaphor, however creepy, gives an idea of what COTANCE’s response to Evelyn Mora, CEO of the Helsinki Fashion Week, after her criticism of the sector for the reported cases to the media about the ill-treatment and slaughter of animals and her decision to ban leather from the 2019 exhibition. This initiative, as explained by Mora to the press, was dictated by “an active stand against cruelty to animals and the damaging environmental impacts that the use of animal leather brings with it“. COTANCE, the European leather industry confederation, interviewed by greenLIFE, in the presence of General Secretary Gustavo Gonzalez-Quijano, reiterated that the leather industry is a supply chain that reuses meat by-products if not its discards and also the wastes. If it doesn’t do so, all this waste would accumulate in landfills causing serious damage to the environment and human health. John Graebin, Senior Director of Materials at the Deckers Brands footwear group, at the NW Material Show 2018, well-expressed this concept, provocatively said that if the tanning industry didn’t exist and if today an entrepreneur declared they would be able to recover meat by-products and recycle them into valuable and precious material, they would be perceived as a hero.

However, the industry exists; particularly, when it comes to European companies, they have achieved environmental sustainability standards unthinkable till a few decades ago.

COTANCE has thus invited Evelyn Mora to its autumn council, held in Naples in October 2018. This invitation was highly welcomed and appreciated and provided the parties with opportunities to clarify their positions. From Mora’s side, there was the possibility to explain the reason for the decision against leather, dictated by widespread opinion among younger generations (ed. Evelyn Mora is 26 years old) that the industry is the cause of animal suffering. Conversely, COTANCE had the chance to explain and show the reality of the tanning process today, concretely, even inviting Mora to visit the Russo di Casandrino tannery.

One point was reiterated by COTANCE to Mora: the responsibility towards animal treatments in the slaughter and animal farms must be found in the meat industry, rather than in the tanning industry. In fact, the tanning industry simply has suppliers in the slaughterhouses who work predominantly for the meat business; the leather industry can hardly and only laboriously set standards due to a strong imbalance in company size and contractual power.

The result of the meeting was undoubtedly positive – stated Gonzalez-Quijano – in the sense that Evelyn Mora has appreciated the dialogue and transparency of the tanning industry, and even if the decision to banish the leather from her fashion summit will not be withdrawn, the CEO of the Helsinki Fashion Week will give a 360-degree attention to the sustainability of alternative materials to leather and a thorough examination of the ethics, environmental and social responsibility of the sectors that will be presented”. “And who knows – hopes Gonzalez-Quijano – maybe the leather will return in 2020 and plastic will be banned”.

But the meeting was strategic for having strengthened in the confederation the idea that a fundamental problem of this wrongful perception towards the industry by the younger generation is the lack of both institutional and corporate communication.

Since there is no promotional communication up to modern standards, distorted messages have passed through the media and social networks to create an incorrect perception. “That is understandable – underlines the secretary – because our operators are B2B businesses which do not have the communication to the general public in their DNA, but it is never too late if there is goodwill“.

Thus, once again, communication is strategic; this time not only for the reputation of the industry but to guarantee its own future.

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