Being positive

1 January 2002

A READER IN ITALY phoned recently to rap me over the knuckles for being too negative in my recent comments. As the company he works for tans and sells a wide range of leathers, he wanted to point out that despite the problems in Japan and the USA, Europe was holding up pretty well as a market place. Moreover, although the automotive industry is selling fewer cars, the competition is fierce and leather is being offered more frequently as an option in order to attract customers. As a result, the percentage of cars being sold with leather featured in their interiors is increasing. Point taken, I have decided to write a much more upbeat comment for this issue to herald in the New Year 2002. At the beginning of December, the famous Ecco footwear group held an opening ceremony in the Netherlands to celebrate their investment in tanning and research and development in the town of Dongen where they have taken over a tannery complex, complete with effluent treatment plant. Having taken the decision to not only tan more of the leather they require for their footwear but also to offer it for sale to other tanners and manufacturers, Karl Toosbuy agreed to the necessary funding to build a new tannery for Unico on site and redevelop their previous premises to provide a wet-blue store. When the complex was originally constructed, it was a very forward thinking venture with one tanner providing the beamhouse and effluent treatment plant for a number of local tanneries. Later, the communal retanning department was constructed by another nearby tanner. There has been a certain amount of upgrading in the beamhouse and retanning departments and a research and development pilot tannery is still under construction. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place in the new offices where guests included all the local Dutch tanners and Mr and Mrs Peter van Arendonk whose company have been heavily involved in kitting out all the Ecco tanneries: in Portugal, Indonesia, Thailand and, now, the Netherlands. The model R&D tannery will receive more money under the EU RESTORM project than any other tannery as they are taking part in the research programme to find a way to design a closed loop tannery in which all chemicals are reclaimed and re-used. This will prove to be a huge benefit to the environment as potential pollutants are removed from the waste. One element of the plan is to find a use for the protein which is routinely discarded by the tanning process. While some of the protein is already being recycled, it is hoped that the excess which is currently being discharged as waste will ultimately be converted into a useful byproduct. Ecco have proved visionary in the past and obviously plan to continue in the same vein. To become one of the largest footwear companies in the world is a major achievement. Starting out in Denmark, they have since branched out to cover the world with sales of their footwear to 37 countries. And they have taken full control of all processes, starting with the raw material. It was in 1988 that Karl Toosbuy addressed the conference of the International Council of Tanners. He said he was forced to start up his own tanning division because tanners did not understand the technical requirement for leather used in shoe making and could not meet delivery dates. Production from wet-blue to finished started in Portugal in 1989. While this could be seen as bad news for tanners, it also provides hope for those who make that extra effort to provide customers with what they want and not what is convenient to the tanner. Times have moved on since the late eighties and successful tanneries now offer high tech leathers, quick turnround, up-to-date work practices and, most important of all, quality has become a major factor with regard to production and environmental matters.

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