The properties and value of leather
About this essay
We published the fourteenth Nothing To Hide essay in its original form in World Leather February-March 2016. It is the work of Elton Hurlow, a leading industry figure until his retirement in 2021, and a great friend of this magazine. Mr Hurlow is a past-president of the International Union of Leather Chemists and Technologists Societies (IULTCS) and was the driving force behind the Global Leather Co-ordinating Committee (GLCC), a body that brought together to discuss matters of common interest to all of the global leather industry’s representative bodies. He started as a research chemist at the South African Leather Industries Research Institute (LIRI) and relocated to the US in the late 1980s, where he first worked at the US Leather Holdings Group. He joined Buckman in 1997 as global market development manager for its leather division. He moved to Europe in 2015 to become divisional manager of its business there, before moving back to the US at the start of 2020 to take up the role of strategic marketing manager for leather, which he fulfilled until retiring.
The value of an article may be defined as a function of its performance during use, and perceptions of its uniqueness or desirability. Leather has a good reputation for durable performance and it is widely perceived as a luxurious material that wears well and ages gracefully. The leather manufacturing industry has significant vested interest in supporting its position in the market as a material of high value.
The tanning process builds on the natural properties of leather to ensure this natural protein bio-material is made resistant to microbial attack and remains stable at elevated temperatures. Leather’s mouldability, durability, and moisture-management properties make it a premium material. When the performance properties of leather are combined with the appeal of the way the material looks, feels and smells, it is truly deserving of its reputation as something special.
Leather is featured as a premium material by many of the world’s leading manufacturers of consumer brands. It is used to promote the desirability of their products. Using the term leather in a product’s name invokes a favourable emotional response in the minds of most consumers. Leather is a selling point.
Synthetic material replacements, many based on fossil fuel and plastics, exist for all leather end-uses and are becoming increasingly competitive. Synthetics, made increasingly to look and perform like leather are also favoured by some manufacturers of articles because of cost or consumer sentiment. To add to concerns, influential voices in fashion and in animal rights campaign against the use of leather. This is unfortunate, as leather can be made sustainably, without undue damage to the environment.
Confusion in the mind of the consumer can detract from the desirability of leather. This essay argues that it is critically important to differentiate leather clearly as a component product of choice.