To quote from their website1: ‘Pittards, headquartered in Yeovil, England, have been producing highly specialised and technically advanced leathers for more than 150 years. The company, which develop leathers for Titleist/Foot-Joy, Puma, Franklin and Nike, among others, are led by group chief executive John W W Pittard, a sixth generation member of the family that founded the company in 1826.’

In the current economic climate, producing ‘highly specialised and technically advanced leathers’ is often not enough to survive, as has been shown by the closure of high quality tanners in the US. So what makes Pittards a successful company – one that can compete and beat the best in the world? The answer lies in the company’s philosophy.

At the 2000 American Leather Chemists’ Conference2, Reg Hankey, managing director of Pittards gloving leather division in Yeovil, gave the J A Wilson lecture, in which he highlighted the key components to a successful company.

‘For tanners to be competitive in the new millennium, I believe the following aspects should be evident within any strategic vision’, Hankey said. He listed these as partnership, culture, people, efficiency, innovation, customer satisfaction, environment and safety and competitors. Taking these individually it can be seen that each fit into the Pittards’ philosophy perfectly – or perhaps it’s the other way round.


One of the goals Pittards has is to share a common strategic aim with their customers. This has led to a number of advancements including the testing laboratory, which was officially opened by Titleist/FootJoy in 1998.

The facilities now encompass twice the original space and the design and operations embrace Pittards total quality culture. Leathers are tested to the various specifications required by their customers including CEN, BS and ISO standards, and Pittards staff are present on the committees which establish the tests for the industry.

Another partnership development was the Pittards breathing foot (PBF), a collaboration with Timberland. PBF provides a method of simulating the sweat characteristic of a foot (see Table 1). It was commissioned for the development of Timberland’s Active Comfort Technology, a revolutionary system of comfort and dryness for feet.

At the other end of the scale, working with the public to promote the positive face of the industry is also important and they are also keen to extend the partnership role to education and the community. At Pittards, leather is being used to help youngsters learn more about the life of the Native American Indian. The show will be visiting primary schools in Eastern England, and leather will be used to show children materials the Red Indians used for both clothing and shelter in the past.

Caroline Spillane, marketing manager, explained: ‘We were delighted to supply a hide for the show. The children will be given the opportunity to touch and smell the hide, which we hope will help them to appreciate the versatility and quality of leather.’

The combined technical and manufacturing expertise of Pittards and FootJoy has produced a new golf shoe using the Aquaflex leather system which enhances the breathability of the shoe in hot weather, but imparts waterproof protection in wet weather. The properties are permanently bonded into the leather fibres. ‘The ‘flex’ part of Aquaflex stands for flexibility, lightweight, extremely waterproof and extraordinary comfort’, said Richard Malin, marketing director for the shoe and leathergoods division at Pittards.


One of the most noticeable things when walking around the factory in Yeovil is how clean and tidy the tannery is. This, according to Hankey, is a result of the implementation of the 20 keys system. Pittards were the first company in Britain to use the Japanese workplace improvement system. The concept involves workers being responsible for major decisions in their own areas.

‘In my view, this is one of the most effective ways to achieve meaningful progress’, said Hankey. By working on each of the 20 keys in a methodical, structured way, the result is a more cost effective and productive tannery. It also engenders a creative, fear free, empowered culture that allows the business to become flexible and adaptive’, said Hankey.

As if to highlight this, the production director, Richard Thurston, who has overseen industrial relations at the Pittards’ Yeovil plant for more than 30 years, was selected for a special award from the Transport and General Workers Union for his efforts in promoting good industrial relations because of the exceptional contribution he has made to achieve change within the industry. Thurston commented: ‘The 20 keys programme is certainly a way for the future. It enables the work force to make real decisions for themselves and also to contribute ideas for the company.’

Innovation/customer satisfaction

This has been one of the key areas for Pittards. The company have always been at the forefront of practical leather production and science. Over the years, they have developed a number of new technologies.

Darryl Cassingham, innovations manager, glove leather division, highlighted a number of them, including a ‘smart leather’ technology that can help regulate skin temperature and ‘Armor-Tan’ which provides more durability for sportsmen without sacrificing comfort.

By surrounding the leather fibres in ceramic platelets, Pittards have developed excellent abrasion resistance. Using the Martindale abrasion tester, leathers treated with the ceramic are 25% more resistant to abrasion than untreated leathers.

Antimicrobial technology is used in a process called ‘Microspike’. R&D has developed a way to chemically bond a proprietary antimicrobial technology to leather fibres so that these properties remain intact even after repeated washing, providing for enhanced leather durability, lower maintenance and longer lasting freshness to the wearer.

Microbiological analysis (see Table 2) shows that almost 100% of the microbes are killed after 24 hours. It works by chemically bonding molecular spikes onto the leather fibres and when bacteria grow on the leather, the spikes come into contact with them, the sharp tips puncture the cell walls and they die, protecting the leather from deterioration.

Another technological process coats each leather fibre with a fast charring surface so that as soon as it is put into flame, the outside turns to char. Char cannot burn and so gives immediate fire protection. This is ideal for emergency services footwear.

Cassingham also discussed the lubrication of individual fibres using carbon. This allows fibres to move over and against one another, which is the key to softness. With automotive manufacturers wanting lower and lower fogging values, the technology may be a way to achieve dry lubrication, so eliminating the problems of fogging seen with wet lubrication systems.

Pittards’ Firebloc is a flame retardant gloving that Pittards have developed, a performance goatskin leather with unique permanent flame retardant properties essential to fire brigades and those exposed to the risk of fire around the world. A specially processed leather that will, once out of reach of a flame, stop burning within 2 seconds and stop glowing within 5 seconds. It also offers enhanced insulation benefits by limiting water uptake, keeping the hand dry and warm at all times. Low water uptake guarantees overall comfort and sustained dexterity which is further enhanced by the light substance of the leather.


Last year, the company published a detailed report which addressed their environmental responsibility and accountability across all areas of the business. John Pittard said: ‘We believe it is the first environmental report in the world from the leather sector.’ The report covers the environmental management system adopted for the processing and production operations undertaken in the UK. It highlights manufacturing issues for air and sewer emissions, spillage and leakage, water and waste and general environmental integrity.

Phil McNee, the group’s environmental manager commented: ‘We have made a commitment to continual improvement by identifying and tackling our environmental impact. We have the ISO 14001 standard on environmental management systems, and transparency, responsibility and accountability are central to our strategy.’


Benchmarking has been used as a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the competition, but as Malin says: ‘It is the technological advantages in our leather that not only sets us above competitors, but have also gone a long way to ensuring leather remains the top choice for shoe manufacturers.

‘Today, we don’t market leather as a traditional material – instead we explain how our high technology gives new performance enhancing benefits that add real value to modern leathers. Then we work in partnership with our customers ensuring we construct the ideal leather with the best benefits for their product and their market.

‘Leather is currently enjoying a strong resurgence not only in footwear but across the board, including house interiors. We are only too aware that to remain as global leaders, we have to continually develop and innovate.’