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Hans’ perspective: Reflecting on the post COVID-19 world

A view on the leather industry by Hans van Haarst, CEO Smit & Zoon Group

 

I am sure that all of us are continuously reflecting on the post COVID-19 world and in particular what it means for how we conduct our business. It is sure that travel will continue to be restricted which has its impact on technical support, fairs and industry conferences. The majority of us already has gotten used to “online” and virtual models to fill the voids created in 2020. I’m convinced these new models will continue to occupy space in the years ahead, albeit not replace traditional models completely.

Cost increases and availability challenges

Following the recovery of demand in some of our markets, we are now faced with significant cost increases and availability challenges for both raw materials and transportation. With COVID-19 still present in many parts of the world, predictability of the medium and longer term trends is very difficult and cautiousness is needed. Price increases seem inevitable which certainly does not help with general market strengthening.

Biodegradability is key, but durability as well

Recently we hosted a webinar on biodegradability of leather, which received broad and large attention. It is clear that this is a topic which resonates with the market and key in the broad spectrum of sustainability themes.

If one can produce a material which is a by-product of the food- and diary industry, is durable and at the same time is biodegradable at the end of its life, it deserves a close look from end consumers in comparison to other materials.

Especially since some of these other materials will eventually need to be recycled, end up in landfill or surface water.

What are the societal costs?

When making sourcing decisions one should take societal cost into account: what are the global society cost of soil remediation, water- and ocean clean-up and climate change? And how can a circular material like leather make a contribution in this context? In 2020 20-30% of hides originating in the Americas ended up in landfill. This being problematic in itself, one should wonder how these hides could have replaced man-made materials, also considering the durability and biodegradability aspects?

We will continue in 2021 – the year that our company will celebrate its bicentennial – to actively work on our own product portfolio in tanning, re-tanning and finishing, our own production facilities and in industry organisations like LWG, ZDHC, LN/Metcha to name a few. I invite you to work with us in all of these areas in order to create a socially and environmentally sustainable leather value chain, together.

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