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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Pelka

Sustainable Leather Forum 2021 - An industry on stage

A summary report of the event including an interview with the organiser Yves Morin of CNC, written by Alexandra Pelka, ESG and SDG consultant at AP Projects and Head of Europe at Leatherteq Limited.
Sustainability is an imperative. A need. Something we should and all have to work towards

This years Leather Forum, hosted by the Conseil National du Cuir, is over but what remains is the ambition of the people attending this event. Not only on stage, but also in the audience the engagement has exceeded expectations. Key words were without doubt sustainability in all its forms, the Agenda 2030 and the need for Transparency across the value chain. We were looking at a very heterogeneous panel of speakers from across the industry, leather specialists, brands, NGO representatives and government bodies. After more than a year of worldwide epidemic health crisis due to Covid-19, the urge to get together, exchange and share what was achieved regarding sustainability and CSR practices was apparent. Under the wings of the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Secretary of State to the Minister of Social and Responsible Economy, the French leather industry has definitely set the agenda for to upcoming changes within the industry and in cooperative effort we can move from theoretical talks towards impact driven innovation.

The clear message: Fashion will always be around and we need to adapt to the fact that this decade or even century has to be dedicated to sustainability reached through collective action. The leather industry is obviously doing an effort to become leader in best practices and showcased various approaches how to reach the set objectives. From technologies to in-house reporting and from training programs to marketing tools the event has ticked all the boxes sustainability interested stakeholders could have wished for. Communication is key and will play a fundamental role in the future of the leather industry if we want to engage consumers into a dialogue. One of the marketing tools we have and should use is provided by Leather Naturally, who created the platform It is a young, fresh and informative platform to connect with the Generations Y and Z, showing the value and quality of leather and finally dusting off its old-fashioned image. This is what our industry urgently needs and what should be focused on hand in hand with communication of sustainability commitments and achievements.

A surprise were the interventions on alternative materials and their performances, an analysis of the current vegan movement and a very philosophical intervention on roots of anti-leather movements. In the last couple of years the leather industry has been targeted with several negative campaigns, whilst the new materials were praised as the solutions for our problems regarding the climate change and environmental impact. Giving brands the opportunity to present new findings in the market and at the same time objectively analysing the performances of those materials, has given a very clear image of the current state of the art regarding leather alternatives. The development is undoubtedly moving towards more and more plant and plastic based materials, but none of them can actually meet the high standard and performance of leather.

A special thanks to the organisers of this years SLF edition and it is a pleasure to get direct feedback from Yves Morin, President of the Organising Committee of the Sustainable Leather Forum.

The SLF 2021 was truly a success, but what were the most important achievements in your view?

One of the most important achievements was the attendance of 400 people. I think it is the first time we see so many people in the leather industry discuss about the issues of Corporate Social Responsibility.

The other achievement was to exchange and discuss with highly qualified experts about difficult and technical topics, such as deforestation or improving communication with stakeholders. It was a real impact talk rather than just a "TV show"-talk for marketing purposes.

How do you want to communicate this event to interested consumers?

Of course any event, such as the Sustainable Leather Forum, is a new opportunity to communicate with our stakeholders, including our customers.

They will have access to our work through the replay of the conference posted in our dedicated website but there will also be press releases available in the general and economic press.

Could events like the SLF open dialogue between consumers and the industry?

About the dialogue, I am confident. My opinion is that, at least in France and in general in Europe, there are already many dialogues with the customers.

Most of the brands have a public relation service, a website, and several social networks. The professional federations also have such services and these tools are not just to talk about the product or fashion trends but they are used to answer questions about sustainability.

But for sure SLF is the very first step for building dialogue, sharing good practices and guiding the whole leather industry to more transparency. In another field of development the Conseil National du Cuir (French Leather Council), the organiser of SLF, is also very much involved in French public promotion for leather all year long.

How do you see the current market situation?

The market as it is now is quite complex, with the Covid 19 crisis most of the brands had to change drastically their supply chain and their distribution channels. At the same time retail is changing faster. Any product in any market segment can now easily be advertised and sold online.

Till now the first change we noticed was in the shift in volume of sales of the various channels towards the internet which is increasing whilst the in-person retail is declining.

The competition being more and more visible leads as a result to a race in the market for lower prices.

Are the younger generations valuing the quality and high performance of leather more than in the past years?

What I see is a change from the younger generation in the US and Europe to less leather, due to communications from the press or some NGOs oriented in favour of "leather bashing".

They argue that if it is an animal raw material it might be bad, in a way it is the same problem for silk and wool. Sometimes the younger generations do not have any argument to justify that, it is just a philosophy...a mindset.

We have just achieved a short consumer study in France. For consumers, Leather is first of all a high-quality, durable and recycling material. We need to communicate more with the young public to explain the advantages of this beautiful material that is leather.

What can and should be done about the misinformation regarding leather production?

The industry understands the current situation very well. This is the reason why we have built METCHA, a programme dedicated to give a more attractive image of leather to the younger generations, but it will take time. We have to explain clearly that leather is a natural material, coming from waste. Its use is sustainable and adapted more than ever to the new way of life - up-cycling of a waste material.

We also have to expand new tools to give confidence about leather production, with more transparency in the supply chain mainly from factories.

In this area, we are progressively applying better practices in manufacturing which can now be certified by organisations such as LWG.

We are talking for quite some time about sustainability goals and commitments, do you see a real change in the industry? Are we walking the walk?

I have been involved in sustainability in the fashion and leather industries since 2001!

So for sure, I can say that changes were quite slow until 2013 and the Rana Plaza drama, when suddenly the world understood that something was going wrong in the fashion industry.

The second turn happened recently with the Covid crisis. For many reasons western consumers changed their mind and started to question themselves about their consumption patterns, this is very positive.

But on the contrary, the crisis came with many bankruptcies in Asian factories putting thousands of workers out of work.

In any case, no more firm could avoid the CSR matters in their development.

So yes, globally we are walking the right way and faster than ever, we can be proud of what has been done recently, and the Sustainable Leather Forum is one key element in that move!

How would you define our biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenges are the volume of consumption, the impact on the resources used and the end-of-life of the products, they are closely linked together.

To give you an example, as the President of UITIC (International Union of Shoe Industry Technicians), I used to present in front of international conferences about the footwear market. With a very simple calculation I can show the major issue of our business:

- If everybody on the planet was buying as many shoes as US citizens, instead of manufacturing 23 Billions pairs of shoes every year, the world production would be around 50 Billions !

I do not know right now how we could handle this, how to manufacture volumes like that, how to source raw materials including leather, how to recycle the waste coming from that production ...

Will there be a sustainable leather forum 2022 and how can interested stakeholders contribute?

The decision will be announced later on by the Conseil National du Cuir ... It is certain that the adventure has just begun!

Thank you for the interview and sharing your experience and opinions with us!

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