The Museu de la Pell d’Igualada i Comarcal de l’Anoia, which is just beyond the Monserrat Mountains, about an hour’s drive from Barcelona, was the venue for the final conference of social partners Cotance and IndustriAll Trade Union’s ‘Leather is my Job’ initiative. This was a highly symbolic place to hold the conference, as leather is in the DNA of this region, being one of the most important cluster industries in Europe.

The EU-sponsored project, the second instalment of which began in 2015, aims to recognise and honour those across Europe who have devoted their careers to making leather. It also serves as a means of inspiring a new generation to carry the mantle, and help promote the positive and evolving growth and strength of the European leather industry, from clean beamhouse processes to immaculate finished products.

Kicked off by Xavier Badia, president of Spanish tanning industry association Acexpiel, this one-day event consisted of a series of keynote addresses and panel discussions on how leather could work with other EU crossover industries that focused on design, creativity and technology in the lifestyle space.

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The overall image of leather also was addressed, since it has a massive PR challenge on its hands, especially with younger people who are plugged into so many media and information channels, yet might have difficulty discerning fact from inaccurate or fabricated reporting, and this is where leather is especially vulnerable.

Speakers on this panel included Kathrin Weber from the University of Niederrhein, AITEX’s Jose Manuel Ramos – who previously spoke of a new initiative called the Worth Project, which aims to establish 150 partnerships, mostly with SMEs in leather, as well as textiles and other industries – and Alessio Spinelli, mayor of Fucecchio.

Cotance secretary-general Gustavo Gonzalez-Quijano also moderated a discussion on the state of recruitment for the leather industry and how Europe could forge better alliances to move the industry forward. This panel featured Giorgio Gentilin, mayor of Arzignano; Hugo Santarem, councilman of Alcanena; and Sigve Bjorstad from the EC. The discussions resulted in robust and tangible progress given the influential cross section of participants. Those representing their respective tannery clusters in Spain, Italy and Portugal met in Barcelona the day before the conference as well to discuss ways to work in step to advance European leather despite cultural and historical differences. Gonzalez- Quijano also hoped clusters in Europe would also be able to join the network. “The clusters are interested in working together to create a new network that will help them find solutions to common challenges,” he said.