Material Exchange Customer Q&A: Francis Tsang
Owner of Italeather Company is Francis Tsang. Francis has been involved in the leather industry for over 25 years. Francis’ passion for sustainability and commitment to an eco-friendlier alternative to standardised leather products has been key to the success of Italeather. Italeather has a global network of partners including, H&M, Reformation and Timberland.
Q: Francis, please can you give a short overview of the type of leather you produce and its key benefits?
A: We specialise in chrome-free leather products for the footwear, apparel and luggage industries. Over my 25 years in the industry I have witnessed a dramatic change in technological advancement, the industry has a problem of waste, mainly metal waste into our water supplies and environment. Our Chrome Free™ leather moves away from traditional chromium tanning systems to use a chrome and metal fee tanning system. This significantly reduces metal waste and environmental pollution. We understand the earth’s resources are depleting at an alarming rate, we are committed to help build a more sustainable and transparent leather goods supply chain for the future.
Q: What are the current business challenges facing Italeather Company?
A: At the moment, many organisations are running campaigns to take products away from leather and create leather substitutes. These organisations claim that synthetic leather or ‘Vegan’ Leather is more environmentally friendly. This is not the case, many of the chemicals used to create synthetic leather are harmful and generate a lot of pollution. The life span of these products is also much shorter than a real leather products, meaning not only is the initial creation more harmful, but they are required to produce more and more of these products to keep up with demand. The traditional leather industry is a recycling process, the industry uses a bi-product of the meat industry that would usually be wasted. We understand that vegetarians will not use leather products, but we see it as a more eco-friendly alternative to man-made products.
Q: Your products are based around being an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional leather, much of the focus is on building a sustainable leather industry. How to you manage your sustainability goals and what initiatives do you follow?
A: Our goal is to reduce our energy and water consumption during the tanning process, we adhere to strict requirements of multiple sustainability initiatives such as ZDHC, to protect our water suppliers and reduce the amount of water waste. These initiatives limit the number and amount of chemicals that can be used during the tanning process. Many Chinese leather producers don’t comply with these standards, this is how we can change the industry and drive sustainability. If we can comply and work successfully, it will influence other leather producers to follow, we can set a good model for others to be more sustainable. Many brands are now looking for more sustainable products because of pressure from consumers, the world is changing, we work with a leading baby stroller company in the US, and they only buy chrome free materials because it is more ethical and safer for babies.
Q: Many of the US brands you work with are facing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, many have closed offices and are on lock-down. How will this affect the way you interact with these brands? And what challenges will this bring?
A: I think businesses are now unsure how to continue during this time, I feel like brands will now have to find alternative ways to communicate, interact and produce their products. We can continue to communicate and work remotely. Online platforms like Material Exchange can play a key role in enabling businesses to continue to operate. For me, this is a new way of connecting brands and suppliers together. I have worked with many brands over the years, I used to fly into their headquarters in the US, I used to do multiple materials and trade shows, events and seminars in different countries; this was very time consuming, not to mention the costs of attending all of these meetings. To me, Material Exchange is a very efficient and interactive platform, it limits the need and costs of travel, and I can connect to brands through my laptop, at home.
Q: What are the challenges leather and material, producers and suppliers face currently and looking to the future?
A: R&D is an issue in China, this relates to pricing. Pricing is so competitive in China which means margins are so small, therefore investment in R&D is limited. This is frustrating for many businesses in China, because they have very innovative products, some that are superior to those produced in Europe but they have limited success selling these products and limited investment in further advancing these materials. Pollution is also an issue, we have to change the way we operate as an industry, things cannot continue. The consumers are putting pressure on the industry to change and move to more sustainable products like chrome free leather. Small changes can make a big difference, we need to make a change.
Q: Looking to the future, do you think innovative technologies and ways of working will create more opportunities and enable to explore more of the market?
A: Absolutely! Traveling is not fun anymore! We can be just as productive working remotely. Plus, when the current situation is over, I feel there will be more travel restrictions in place so working digitally and remotely will be a necessity. The footwear and apparel industries, may reconsider if travel is really necessary for their staff. I also believe that global economies will take a number of years to bounce back, meaning the money and budgets set aside for travel will not be available. But also, many people are now environmentally oriented and understand our impact on our planet, together we need to reduce our pollution. There is no norm anymore, digital technologies will help level the playing field for all businesses, small suppliers can compete with larger ones and have the same opportunities.
Q: What are your future plans, and where does Material Exchange fit in?
A: Material Exchange will be a significant part of our future plans, we have the ability to produce our Chrome-Free leather in great numbers, Material Exchange will give us the ability to expand our network and create more business opportunities outside of China. We are not trying to reinvent the industry and nor are Material Exchange, but we are changing the mindset and creating more opportunities in the market, that is how we will continue to use Material Exchange.
Find out more about Italeather:
Company website: www.ecocare.care
Material Exchange Public Digital Profile: https://library.material-exchange.com/show-company-profile/129
Material Exchange Public Digital Profile QR code:
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