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

At the Northampton Institute for Creative Leather Technologies, sustainability is at the heart of teaching

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We do not teach how to tan leather, but rather how it could be done, should be done and how we wish it might be done. But then it is up to the students, coming from all over the world, to first of all take home the ability to think critically,” remarks  Emeritus Professor Tony Covington, with 40years’ proud dedication to teaching, and Director of Research within the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT), who are reluctant to let him retire.

Here, over three intense years, students do not only study the scientific foundations of leather tanning but also understand the industry from a holistic approach. It attracts students from all over the world in a ‘super diverse’ context.

Encouragingly,” underlines Rachel Garwood, Director of the Institute, “we have seen the percentage of English students soaring, rise over recent years reaching almost 10% today, a sure sign that the industry, once considered at its twilight, is far from fading, and has again become interesting for the British.”

Northampton, 100 km north of London, was a flourishing centre of leather tanning just a few decades ago. Today there is little left of that industry, and nowadays remaining companies are predominantly the footwear sector. The knowledge together with more than a century of history within the Institute remain, embedded within the University of Northampton (UoN). ICLT positively exploits the interrelation between the wide variety of disciplines taught within the UoN: from science to fashion, from design to history, right up to psychology. It was re-branded in 2009 from the British School of Leather Technology  (BSLT) to the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT), to indicate its strong connection to fashion, footwear and product design; a change that instantly focused on the many and interesting job opportunities and which enhanced its glamour, making it more attractive to the creative sector.

A 100% employment rate over the last 7 years (students employed or enrolling in further studies within 6 months of graduation) indicates that students are ready for the industry. Good for Kingslay Aceyei, 25 years old and Daniele Biolo, 21 years old, from Arzignano, both at the end of the three-year course. We asked them about their experience: “The course is intense and interesting,” they say, “there is a lot of freedom to deepen the subjects and a rich library available with precious volumes. It is our responsibility to go there and to find out the information.” Both are hoping to be employed soon, and they are happy with the experience that gave them technical skills, the non-banal card of proficiency in English language, as well as an enviable international network.

And the future of the institute and its teaching? “Necessarily in a green sense,” explains Rachel, “in each teaching module the topic of sustainability is considered. But it is, above all, a fundamental value of the entire university.” UoN has been the first British university awarded Ashoka (an international non-profit organization that promotes social entrepreneurship). The director also explains that all the latest research programmes at Phd level have taken sustainability into deep consideration. BSc students, at their third-year, work with in-depth analysis of macro scenarios related to sustainability of the industry and of its supply chain as a whole.

And, speaking about macro aspects, the director comments about Brexit: “Of course,” she underlines, “This will not stop the collaboration with European industries”.

The ICLT, they told us, will relocate within the next 18 months, into a brand new, well-equipped facility in the city centre, as parte of the larger 330 million pound UoN Waterside relocation project. This is a sure sign of the commitment to the future of leather teaching and the ICLT’s  mission to continue to be world leading educators in providing ready-for-industry graduates to the whole global leather supply chain.

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