A future to get excited about - Leather Naturally's Mike Redwood15 July 2016
Leather Naturally founder Mike Redwood discusses the resurgence of the leather industry and its implications for training future craftspeople at the University of Northampton, UK.
For those of us who were at APLF and heard University of Northampton vice-chancellor Nick Petford's major statement on the move to the new campus, the excitement of the potential for leather in Northampton, UK, has been growing.
While it is easy to get depressed by the past 50 years of relentless industry decline in Northampton through the 20th century, the 21st century has been much better, and with this announcement it looks to be improving further. The Northampton footwear industry has stabilised and is expanding again, and has even being written about in the Financial Times.
Leathergoods businesses like Tusting are making a big mark on the world and our local tannery appears to be busy. In the university, leather education has battled through the tough changing terrain of UK higher education and emerged much stronger.
With the great help of our friends and supporters from around the world − which include many tanners, chemical companies and brands, along with magnificent support from the Leathersellers Company − the tannery, laboratories and teaching rooms have been transformed, the courses have been modularised and updated, and the research has been further revitalised with much greater industrial links.
Talking of links, the silos in the university also appear to be breaking down, and cooperation with fashion, waste management, business and a host of other departments that routinely overlap with leather is increasing all the time. Allied to the new short courses and a very dynamic teaching team, a visit to the ICLT nearly always produces positive surprises.
The vision for the vice-chancellor is that a new international centre for leather excellence will be created at Waterside campus (this is probably not what it will be called, but it is good for the moment). It will combine the Teaching Tannery, the Leather Conservation Centre (which is next door on Park campus) and the Museum of Leather Craft (whose world beating collection has been too nomadic) into one building. This concept will combine modern technology with heritage and design. Just a few metres away from this building will be a multistorey curative hub in which leather research and laboratories will link with the arts, fashion, design and other scientific areas.
For the leather industry this is pioneering work. Celebrating the importance of leather in society, technology and design, and using that to unite with modern innovation, future manufacturing methods and fashion all on one site in a town that has been deeply involved in leather for 1,000 years, is something that would have been unimaginable just ten years ago.
It is going to require determination to make it work. The University of Northampton does not have all the funding for it yet and the museum will need some bridging finance to get through the few years until the campus is built. Right now, plans and numbers are being calculated and more details should be available by the end of the summer. However, this is undoubtedly a future to get excited about.