The Economist Wrong to Use Negative Terms

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New materials will continue to be needed alongside leather and the industry fully accepts that life will become more competitive.

We believe that all materials should be objectively evaluated and presented with full transparency but The Economist is in danger of damaging our industry by describing it in the negative terms it uses in its recent piece, 'Growing Leather in Factories.'

The Economist
London
letters@economist.com

Dear Editor 

You wrongly characterise the leather industry in your article “growing leather in factories”.  Modern leather, properly made, is one of the most sustainable materials available. 

No one has ever or will ever keep livestock like cattle in order to make leather. The hides and skins used to produce leather come entirely from the meat and dairy industry. While population growth and an  increasing middle class have grown volumes the equation is such that for some centuries leather supply has not been able to expand with demand. So over the last thousand years leather has been replaced by new, often better materials, such as paper, glass, pottery and technical textiles, in a wide variety of end uses. 

We believe that this long term trend will continue and leather, the prime and best use for the hides and skins, will continue in those roles where it’s natural beauty and performance work best. 

It is true that, like many other industries, leather making in history was an odious trade best carried out away from population centres. Most of this was what we now call biotechnology and while for the last hundred years or so modern alternatives have been used it is not very logical to condemn a modern industry on this basis. 

Equally we do not accept that modern tanning, using chromium or not, is as difficult as you say. Chromium tanning was introduced at the end of the 19th century and its development since means that today it is one of the best methods, although others such as traditional vegetable tanning, titanium and other materials are increasingly being used. The conspiracy to condemn chromium is unfortunate. It is only a problem in the hexavalent form, which tanners do not use, and even then only when ingested. Of course, as with any industry. The leather industry does have problems in certain areas such as Bangladesh and parts of India where weak enforcement of the laws and misbehaving management do not manage waste streams correctly. We greatly hope they will be quickly resolved;  but it is not wise to leverage these tiny groups against a whole industry who make an excellent product in first rate tanneries.

New materials will continue to be needed alongside leather, and the industry fully accepts that life will become more competitive. We believe that all materials should be objectively evaluated and presented with full transparency.  Many "new" materials are presented as being sustainable and "green" that are essentially petroleum based products wrapped around some form of natural substrate. We accept that we will not  convince a committed vegan that leather is a good option.  The rest of the consumer base as well as the supply chain however, should hear a much louder, consistent, and objective message. We believe that keeping livestock remains valuable for society and the planet, and that using the hides and skins that fall from it for leather making is an outstanding option. Leather is defined as coming from the hides and skins of animals, largely intact. Modern Meadow have what looks like an excellent material to compete with leather and we are pleased they are about to announce an alternate name, as it is not leather. We welcome them to the market and look forward to working, and competing, with them. But we do not accept that The Economist should damage our important industry by describing it in the negative terms that you use.  

leathernaturally.org


 

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