Our interview with Darryl Cassingham last week resulted in a fantastic response with many of you commenting that you were looking forward to the next instalment. Good news – your wait is over.
As the Managing Director of Nomis Sports Innovations Pty Ltd, Darryl’s knowledge of leather is unsurpassed. He’s known the world over as ‘Dr Leather’ and when you find out that the letters after his name go something like this: MBA, HND, FSLTC and LCGI, it’s not too difficult to work out how he got his nickname.
In the second part of his interview with Footy Boots, Darryl looks forward to potential industry innovations and offers you the best advice on how to care for your precious leather footwear.
FB: How has the use of leather, K-leather and synthetics changed during your time in the business?
DC: With regards to leather, I think the biggest thing is that the more reputable tanners in the world are now using more advanced retanning and finishing techniques. Many years ago, the processing of leather was not so great from an environmental point of view, with low efficiency processing techniques being utilised and some dubious chemicals being used. Certainly nowadays, with thanks to research by tanners and the chemical suppliers, the majority of leather processing chemicals are all water based as opposed to solvent based, which is still typically used in the manufacture of synthetic leathers. And the reaction efficiencies have been steadily improved to reduce energy and water consumption in the manufacture of leather, along with enhanced environmental waste water treatment systems leading towards a closed-loop (i.e. fully reusable in the process) system becoming common.
Doing it ‘old school’ – a leather tannery from many years ago
But this is only scratching the surface, and the processing techniques are far more in depth than I can explain in just a few words. Brands have also stepped up in creating strict specifications for their materials, to ensure that certain chemicals are banned or limited in their use in manufacture.
The above is a very important aspect. Many brands complete these points through either internal or independent auditing programs, but there is nothing like a brand employing a fully trained experienced leather technician that can go into a tannery anywhere in the world and know what he is looking for. ‘It takes one to know one’ as they say!!!!!
But sadly the use of leather appears to have declined somewhat in a number of the boots over the years. It has been a stealth approach in that the football boots change design each year, and steadily seem to have less and less leather in them. Without doubt, there is a price conscious market out there that needs the options of a synthetic leather boot, but my philosophy is that the consumer is king, and we must provide a fantastic product that will allow players to excel in their sports in all aspects. And in my opinion, leather is still the number one material to utilise.
We have conducted a number of internal ‘blind’ tests in the past, where we have created football boots of all different upper materials, but every time not only the pro-player, but also the grass roots players, have picked the leather football boot. There is still the ‘old chestnut’ of the mass of the boot, and how it should be lighter, but most players see through that particular marketing story once they consider all aspects of the boots performance and benefits.
FB: Nomis is well known for producing football boots that offer player protection – which material would you recommend for players who want to look after their feet?
DC: Leather is still my recommendation, but it must be used in conjunction with a suitable design and overall footwear construction. The whole benefit of its conformity and moisture management properties is key to providing a player with a football boot of exceptional quality that works in harmony with the foot.
FB: Will synthetic materials ever replace natural leathers in the future?
DC: It’s possible. The synthetics have moved on over the years, but essentially I still just see them as a dumb copy of the real thing. I looked at ‘growing’ skin many years ago through accelerated techniques, which could then be used in a hybrid system with other materials, but sadly the technology is too slow and expensive for now. But sure, the day we can grow it from a chamber and create it in sheets would be very interesting. There is one company that is sort of trying to do this, I believe through hydro-entanglement of leather fibres, and so with modern processing technology advancement, I see this as an alternative ‘stepping stone’ in how leather can be used.
FB: What advancements do you foresee in the industry over the next decade or so?
DC: From a technology standpoint, I wish I could answer this.. but cannot for Intellectual Property reasons. But we currently have about 15 technologies being developed in our Innovation Laboratory.
However, the aspect of ‘cradle to cradle’ products will become very important. This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials, in conjunction with designs for material re utilisation, such as recycling or composting. The use of renewable energies and energy efficiency, efficient use of water, and maximum water quality associated with production. And instituting strategies for social responsibility must become paramount.
FB: How will the advent of the technology used in the NXGEN Spark affect the industry going forward?
DC: Football boots seems to have evolved to incorporate a fashion statement these days. As a kid at school back in the 1980’s (a long time ago now!!!!) I only remember black football boots, and would have never dared to have worn a white boot!!!! But that has certainly changed, and the graphic designers and colour forecasters have certainly progressed these changes in recent times, especially with the subsequent opportunities offered for name and number personalisation, etc.
However, I would purport that the NXGEN is more revolutionary though, in that it opens up the whole individuality and customisation concept upon leather to the next level, and it is something that Nomis intend to capitalize upon. You’ll see smaller runs of exclusive designs, with the ultimate possibility of the consumer being able to really create their own design on their football boot in time to come. Effectively it creates a utopia for designers, but still with the ability to have the best fibre structure in the world (i.e. the leather) doing its job underneath. And is not limited to just football boots.
Also without revealing too much, the processing technique behind this technology will be used to deploy far more than just a graphical image.. but you’ll have to wait for that one!!!!!
FB: Should manufacturers spend more time advancing certain materials rather than gimmicky technology?
DC: I remember back in the 1990’s when gimmicky ‘buzz-words’ were common place in the sporting equipment arena. Titanium and carbon-fibre were thrown around by marketers without genuine understanding, and as such these supposed technologies became common place very quickly, but in truth, I’m not sure if they actually contribute that much except in a psychological way. The latest seems to be ‘nano technologies’, which in truth is quite funny seeing as the leather and chemical industry has been working on the much smaller pico-sized technology platform for many years!!!! I think what I’m saying is there is a lot of gimmicks out there.
I truly believe that genuine technological materials with a demonstrable effect are crucial going forwards. Without doubt input from players is very important as they are our ‘eyes and ears’ of feedback from the products we make. The player is very savvy these days, and really the brands need to wake up to the fact that their job is to create a product that provides a solution to the player as opposed to making it look pretty and generating a good profit for their shareholders. In addition, the point I touched on earlier of being a renewable resource will come in to play along with the modern thinking of ‘cradle to cradle’ materials. The beautiful game deserves beautiful solutions, not beautiful marketing.
FB: What is the best way to maintain a pair of leather or K-leather boots?
DC: Sadly, not all football boot leather, nor K-Leather, is made the same. Sure the fibre structures are, but the tanning and finishing technologies are not. The majority of football boot leathers have a very thin coating of a polymer on the surface to help protect the leather and provide a certain optical effect. I often read threads on forums about how to clean and look after leather, and really I become quite horrified. I read of one person using spray can polish one time!!!!! The modern-day leathers should be simply cleaned after every use with a mix of lukewarm water and a pH neutral soap with gentle rubbing with a sponge or cloth. Then allowed to dry naturally, away from strong heat sources or direct sunlight.
However, there is a new cleaning product being developed specifically to the modern day footwear leathers that are due for release soon, which I have had the privilege to try and it is very good. I’ll let you know more once it is fully approved.
Because Nomis uses two distinctive technologies, we have specifically considered the cleaning aspect and we provide cleaning products for our Wet Control and Dual Control leather footwear.
One other point is that of the use of leather foods. I have faced this many times in the car upholstery industry, where the aftermarket business is huge. Special creams, conditioners, foods, etc. are all suggested. But what is not made clear is that the majority of these products are made for leathers made from more traditional tanning recipes, where the technologies used were not substantive (i.e. chemically fixed) to the leather, and as such they did require nourishing. The majority of modern day leathers simply do not need these ‘foods’.
Also, in general, if your football boots become very wet, then simply remove the sockliners and pack absorbent paper into the boot to draw out the moisture, and change when necessary.
Looking after your football boots properly is a must and will help preserve their lifespan throughout the season. I mean.would you leave your leather jacket soaked through and covered in mud… I think not.