March, 20th. Interview with Martin Ricker, International Leather Maker
GreenLIFE. Considering the constant threats of alternative materials, misconception about their natural quality, animal welfare and environmental concern, among other challenges that leather is facing, what in your opinion are the prospects of this industry over the next 10 years?
Martin Ricker. The leather industry is facing challenges on several fronts like never before. I believe that the whole industry needs to support an international campaign that will promote leather and its benefits to the general public as well as brand/retailer stylists and designers. There are many misconceptions and growing evidence of fake news put out by anti-leather and anti-meat campaign groups and NGOs, and a lot of growing competition from other materials against leather. So, I think that if leather wants to hold its market share, it really needs to be more proactive in its marketing and consumer messaging.
It is a risky moment for leather. I want to add some historical context: around the years 2015/2016 raw material prices of hide and skins reached record levels, as a result finished leather became much more expensive. As a consequence, brands and retailers started switching to other materials. And they eventually liked some of these other materials. This has been combined with the rise of vegetarianism and veganism among the wider population, especially in the younger generations and NGOs campaigning against the leather sector. The leather industry never had any tools in its armoury to defend itself against any of these threats.
GL. How do you expect the global tannery industry to evolve in the near future?
MR. I do feel we will see further consolidation in the tanning industry. We are already seeing smaller players closing down or consolidating into bigger groups, particularly in places like Italy, where traditional family-owned tanneries are being acquired by asset management and investment companies. I also see players moving out of China and some relocating to other parts of Asia, especially to southern and south east Asia. Many brand and retailers are relocating to places such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia. But I think their ability to attract will depend on the ability of these countries to improve their environmental and social corporate responsibility because, at least at the moment, their CSR, in many cases, is not up to international standards. However, I expect China along with India and Brazil to remain big players on the global stage, and also Italy in terms of high-end fashion/luxury, along with other parts of Europe in particularly for automotive suppliers and high-end leather goods and footwear made in places such as Spain, France and Turkey.
GL. How is leather considered in your culture?
MR. I believe that we should look at the Northern Europe and North America where the biggest change in attitude is taking place separately from other parts of the world in terms of consumer driven change. Brands and retailers are asking for more raw material traceability, environmental protections and better animal welfare following pressure from active consumers and pressure groups. This movement in people’s attitudes towards leather and leather products begins in northern Europe and North America and then is slowly impacting on the consumers impression of the industry throughout the rest of Europe and then also to other continents such as Central/South America, Asia and Africa. Any major will have an impact on the leather industry across Southern Europe and the Mediterranean where most leather is made in Europe today. Parts of South and South East Asia and Central/South America, where the public are traditionally much positive about the industry and can be described as more pro-leather, particularly in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina where there are also very large meat industries. I think that some of the main threats to the leather industry are concerns around animal welfare and the rise of veganism from Europe and North America. Particularly the mainstream media and many social media bloggers seem to be against leather at the moment.
GL As a media representative, how would you recommend tanneries to communicate with the people? And what would be the key message to establish and maintain goodwill in the general public towards leather?
MR. I would break down leather consumers into 3 different groups. The “fast-fashion”, younger people for whom leather is not considered particularly important. This group can be reached through Instagram and other social media platforms. A second group comprises people looking for products that are long-lasting, they typically buy less in volume than the fast-fashion group and prefer items with longevity, this really suits products made from leather. This second group of consumers tend to be older and more traditionally leather liking, they are keen to spend a bit more. They can be reached through events (music concerts, lifestyle and fashion) as well as in the media with interviews and articles in magazines and websites.
A third group, the luxury group, are a small group with high net worth individuals that would buy luxury leather goods, footwear or clothing from high-end brands and premium luxury or super sports car manufacturers. They need to be targeted through traditional media channels and marketing, rather than through social media in my opinion, although in the age of the Kardashians there is even a small but younger group of affluent consumers who would be reached and buy high-end brands through social media channels.
It is important to adjust your messages accordingly for each group. For instance, I think that the millennials do not buy leather or its understand its intrinsic properties or value as a material in the same way as the older generations have in the past, they buy it purely on brand appeal, whereas the older generations tend to be more sensitive about product longevity, perceived long-term value and quality and the sustainability aspects of something that wears with time.
The final thing I would like to mention is what I think the leather industry should do: Last year, I was hosting a conference on automotive leather in Germany. A gentlemen in the audience from a major international car brand stood up and said that everyone connected with styling, materials, colour and interior design of cars within the auto industry has heard of the microfibre plastic material called Alcantara. However, outside of the industry in the world of the consumer very few would be able to tell what you what Alcantara is, most people have never heard of it. However, thanks to targeted marketing and component branding within the automotive industry many car companies specify Alcantara in seating and other panels, often instead of or alongside genuine leather. The company deliberately targeted cars interior designers, stylists and specifiers and in many cases less leather or no leather was used. And this is what I believe the leather industry needs to start doing more across all the market segments where it is used underlining the quality, value, longevity, comfort and sustainability credentials which is a natural by-product of another industry. It not only needs to target consumers but also play a larger role in marketing the benefits of leather to those people that design products for use in everyday life.
Martin Ricker is the Director of Edify Digital Media Ltd, the publisher of International Leather Maker (ILM) and theSauerReport, which is the leading global platform for hides and skins prices, market intelligence and statistics. Edify Digital Media Ltd is also a business intelligence company producing market reports, events, news, podcasts and webinars, commentary, analysis and technical content for global business to business markets covering the whole leather supply chain.