‘Future forward’ in Spanish leather technology

6 October 2017

Stahl recently opened the doors to a new Center of Excellence outside Barcelona. The facility is the latest component of the group’s continuing commitment to a sustainable chemical supply chain, as Ross Davies reports from Catalonia.

“I’m very good at cutting ribbons,” joked Stahl CEO Huub van Beijeren shortly before the opening of his company’s new Center of Excellence in Parets del Vallès.

Around 285 delegates, mainly comprising of customers, OEMs and brands, were on hand in bucolic surroundings on the northern outskirts of the Catalan capital to witness the launch of the new facility on 1 June.

Rather than snip the Stahl-blue ribbon himself, Van Beijeren, assigned the duty to a member of FC Barcelona’s youth squad, who deftly aimed a football straight through the heart of the tape to much applause.

New focus

The new facility – an investment worth approximately €5.7 million – is the group’s seventh such centre, and will focus on performance coatings and leather chemicals, as well as new polymer technology.

“The new Center of Excellence is a place where experts can work side-by-side with partners to share knowledge, and demonstrate the latest futureproof innovations and technology,” said Stahl’s Vasco da Silva, local manager, Spain.

Changing shades

Stahl has invested in state-of-the-art equipment for polymer research and leather chemicals technology, in addition to coatings for the apparel and home furnishing industry, such as the next generation of EVO DMF-free polyurethane coatings.

Some of the latest technology on show included finishing that is able to change colour through heat and wind, as well as bug-repellent finishes. As one impressed delegate put it, “Innovations that could shape the future of leather.”

Look forward

Under the banner of ‘Future Forward’, the event served to promote Stahl’s vision of sustainability, which has increasingly become the driving force behind the group’s product development strategy.

Van Beijeren used his welcome address earlier in the day to underscore the changing attitudes of consumers towards chemical production and transparency across the supply chain.

“The game-changer in the past year has been the consumer,” he explained. “It’s no longer about paying the lowest price. Consumers want to know how a product is created. Is the supply chain transparent?

“They want to know that something has been made in a reliable way and that the chemicals are safe.”

Shape the future

The CEO’s comment echoed a similar sentiment he shared with Leather International on a taxi ride from the airport the previous day, in which he laid out the central quality to keep Stahl ahead of its competitors: keeping the customer always in sight.

“With a lot of business at the top, they just run from one internal meeting to the next,” said Van Beijeren. “They then forget about the customer. Stahl doesn’t do this.”

The game-changer in the past year has been the consumer. It’s no longer about paying the lowest price. Consumers want to know how a product is created. Is the supply chain transparent? They want to know that something has been made in a reliable way and that the chemicals are safe.

Van Beijeren was followed on the stage by Kurt Schlapfer, head of customer relationship management at Bluesign, and Joan Marine Alcarria, sustainability and quality manager at Spanish clothing giant Inditex. Both reiterated the importance of compliance across the entire supply chain.

Imagine the possibilities

The overall mood of the event was optimistic, as embodied by another strapline chosen by Stahl: ‘If it can be imagined, it can be created’. The launch of the centre also demonstrated a company in growth mode.

The Dutch group’s ascent in recent years has been acquisitive as well as organic, as seen in March when it revealed its intention to acquire BASF’s leather chemicals global business. The transaction, which is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year, also includes BASF’s leather chemicals production site in L’Hospitalet, Spain, and features 210 locations across the world, of which half are in Asia.

Lighting the way

The day ended with a dinner in the towering, neo-baroque palace of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. After the dessert plates had been taken way, diners were treated to a light show, which shimmered from the museum steps across the nearby Plaça d’Espanya.

The blue illuminations that beamed across the iconic square can perhaps be interpreted as a symbol of Stahl’s greater objective: to project its business to further and wider quarters of the globe.

The mood of the event was captured by the strapline: ‘If it can be imagined, it can be created’.

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