On the eve of the US market Monitoring Mission, to be held during Lineapelle New York, we talked with Maria Alexandra Inácio, president of APIC – Associação Portuguesa de Industriais de Curtumes, to take stock of the Association’s next objectives.
APIC’s main goals have always been to represent and defend the industry’s collective interests, set out its development strategy and plan and implement mobilisation and structuring projects for the Portuguese tanning sector. How can these aims be reconciled with a fast-changing world shaken by momentous events such as the recent pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war?
Global events, like the pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian war and, more recently, the conflict in the Middle East, affect our lives and our businesses at all levels. Their effects – the rise in energy prices, the food shortages in the world’s most vulnerable regions, the risks to the free movement of goods – are examples of the constraints they cause. These events also cause a high level of uncertainty and insecurity in business and human relations, which is perhaps one of the most damaging effects of the global crisis, as it has a decisive influence on confidence and stability, which are essential in the normal course of human life.
The treatment of hides and skins (the tanning industry) is a trade that people have been plying since their origins and they will continue to do so, in the role of the recycler, using the most advanced technologies in use today. We should remember that the tanning industry plays a key role in recycling, as it uses the waste from the animal slaughter industry for human consumption, turning it into goods that can be reused.
The Portuguese tanning industry is made up of highly organised and highly technological companies, governed by some of the strictest international regulations and standards, that compete on demanding markets such as automotive, footwear and fashion, including the major international brands. In that sense, the Portuguese tanning industry will continue to follow the changes in society and on the markets and will respond to their requirements.
The ambitious IN-LEATHERS project aims to accelerate the internationalisation of the Portuguese tanning industry. Can you tell us about this strategy’s main guidelines?
The IN-LEATHERS project aims to support the participation of Portuguese companies from the tanning industry and the leather Cluster at international trade shows, as well as promoting and strengthening the sector’s visibility. One of its main goals is to promote the Leather from Portugal trademark and integrate it with the Leather in Design project. The IN-LEATHERS project also includes some new actions to promote the industry in areas such as Creativity and Innovation, Sustainability, Circular Economy and Carbon Footprint, as well as promoting Brands and the Digital Transition.
A recurring talking point in the global tanning industry is the environmental impact of tanning processes. What steps do you think need to be taken so that consumers understand that companies in the industry are actively engaged and are already a valuable resource for the circular economy?
The tanning industry has been investing heavily in improving its environmental performance for years. The aim is to make it increasingly sustainable in terms of resource consumption, emission reduction and integration of the waste produced into the same process of recycling that underlies its nature. The tanning industry is therefore a promoter of the circular economy and of sustainability.
The key to winning over public opinion in general, consumers, who are increasingly demanding and selective, and consequently big brands, lies in communication. This communication must have two focuses: leather industry and leather product. When it comes to the first, it is important to ‘open it up’ more and show how much the tanning sector has developed with technology and innovation. We also need to publicise our environmental performance in terms of compliance with legal obligations (which are quite demanding) but also with the various international regulations (which are often more demanding than national legislation). The social role of the tanning industry in its local territories is also worth pointing out.
As for leather products, it is increasingly important to publicise their characteristics, both in terms of performance (suitability for its intended purpose) and sustainability compared with other competing materials. The majority of these materials are oil-based, meaning they have a much bigger ecological impact than “Skin” products, which are biodegradable, recyclable and reusable.