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December 1, 2011

The art of tanning. Interview with Rino Mastrotto

Rino MastrottoTanning is art, not just production, a few will fall by the way due to the crisis but product quality and research are the keystones to get through it. Produce in China? No way. The future, like the past, is in the Arzignano district: we need a “Tanning Museum” so that we don’t forget who we were. These are the words of Rino Mastrotto, Chairman of Rino Mastrotto Group: 5 companies in the Arzignano valley, factories in Brazil, Vietnam and Australia, which follow the entire tanning cycle to produce products for the furniture, footwear and automotive industries.


Tanning is an art – you say – but not many would agree:
The stereotype of a tannery as somewhere dirty, of the tanner’s work as something unhealthy should have died ten years ago. Visit the tanneries: they are multinationals, tidy and clean. Tanning is a sector formed of specialised professionals, cutting-edge technology, qualified skilled people, top quality products. The leather that is produced is exciting, unlike plastic and synthetic materials the leather is chosen for a divan or shoes because it creates an emotion. So surely it must be a work of art.

To preserve this art: let’s put it on show:
That’s right. For ten years we have been talking about the Tanning Museum project. Now, with the Tanners’ Association we are thinking about converting Villa Biasin as its location. Let’s face it, I don’t know if there will still be tanneries in ten years time, but at least there will be a museum! In my mind, it should be a sort of “stamp” we put on the valley. We should include the old tanning machines, which you can still see around but which are gradually disappearing. The development in the work is amazing, in terms of production process and also environmental respect and working conditions. The future is built on the past. We have grown up, but I believe that we should remember where we came from. The tanneries used to be on the Asiago Plateau, then here in Arzignano and in the valley one of the most important districts developed in Europe. I would take the children to the museum, because it should be a moment of reflection for them.


The past is here, what about the future?
The crisis is not over. The tidal wave is still coming and will carry a few away. There are still problems and it is pointless to deny it: the competition from China and India for example, the fact that there is 70% less production for furniture, partly set off by car upholstery and footwear, but partly lost. We have two directions to follow: very high quality, research to bring the products into line with fashion in a rapidly changing world. Secondly, we must stop being jealous because it prevents us from growing.


Third direction: outsource?
I have no intention whatsoever to go to China for my production. We have a sales division in Hong Kong, a representation office and a warehouse. But our production is here. Apart from the red tape which is still an obstacle, over recent years investments have been made in innovation, great steps have been taken in terms of environmental respect. We have an excellent purification plant, we have the divisions of the world leader chemical companies in the valley, we have the school to prepare the specialised personnel, we have been operating a very strict environmentally friendly production process for some time now. This is where the investments must be made.


You are President of UNIC, what form do you want to give to the Italian tanners’ association?
I don’t want it to just be a category association, but increasingly a cultural association. There are certain projects I am very keen on: one in cooperation with the “Accademia della Crusca” for revising the tanning vocabulary, to prevent headwords like “eco-leather” being referred to our production and culture. It is a linguistic operation, but clarity that begins with the language in a world that lives on counterfeits is a very important step. We are focusing on tanning “Archaeology”: we have financed the restoration of a tanning complex that was discovered at Pompeii: the Roman tannery of Porta Stabia, one of the most ancient in the world. This year, we plan to complete the restoration: according to experts in the area there are other tanning structures, a sort of district ante litteram. In Naples, in the Archaeological Museum, we would like to set up a sort of “Historic Road of Leather” an exhibition dedicated to the art of tanning, from prehistoric to modern times in cooperation with museums in London, New York and Paris. We will finance the digs in Altilia, in Molise, where an ancient Roman tannery has been found, and other works are planned in Bosa in Sardinia, where the tanneries that were built in the first half of nineteenth century have been classed as a national monument since 1989 but are in a state of serious decline at the moment. Finally, the plans to reconstruct the tanning museum in Santa Croce sull’Arno, near Pisa.



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