Meet the Competition Chair… Stephen Sothmann

Stephen Sothmann, L&HCA President

Meet the Competition Chair… Stephen Sothmann

Leather and Hide Council of America (L&HCA) President Stephen Sothmann looks at the future of leather and fast fashion.  And at the 2021 Real Leather. Stay Different. Student Design Competition, which goes international following last year’s pandemic-defying success.

Few people would describe 2020 as a good year. In fact, most gave their definition of ‘success’ a 12-month downgrade to ‘making the best of a bad job’. Stephen Sothmann is no different. But despite the Real Leather. Stay Different. Student Design Competition being launched in 2020, there were some genuine highs. He explains: “Unfortunately, of the four countries we ran the competition in last year, three of them were delayed because of covid. But the competition has gone all the way through in Taiwan and they were able to hold an awards ceremony and have all the final competitors present their materials. It was fantastic and the UK, China and Italy are now back on track.”

The competition was enough of a success to inspire bigger and better things for 2021.

“We’re really excited about this one. It is reaching out to tomorrow’s designers – the ones that are going to be making decisions in the fashion houses, choosing what kind of materials they are going to be using.

“Last year’s competition had a really surprising but excellent, outcome. We’re looking forward to a year when we can hopefully get all four countries, and the international competition, all the way through the process.”

Stephen is putting the L&HCA’s money where his mouth is: “We are putting in $700,000 this year across all different platforms and we are hoping to continue to expand that.”

Leather is the ideal material for design competitions. As Stephen says: “It’s sustainable. It’s one of the most sustainable materials we have. It’s one of the original recycled materials. And as long as humans continue to consume dairy or beef products, we are going to have hides and we need to utilise those if we are going to be a sustainable society.

“It’s a durable material that can last for decades if it Is handled correctly and well kept. And it’s beautiful! It has a lot of very great characteristics associated with it that a lot of people really enjoy, really look forward to consuming. So in that respect it’s a beautiful, versatile material.

“Leather is definitely slow fashion, there’s no question about it. It’s going to be an article you’ll buy, hold on to it for decades and pass down to your children. If it’s a sofa you’re going to hold on to that sofa for decades and find it gets better with age.

“That Slow Style does not work well within any fast fashion models. But we also believe that fast fashion is unsustainable, environmentally, socially and ethically, and as the fashion industry and consumers move away from plastics and disposable consumerism, I think leather is positioned very well.”

When asked what advice he would give to 2021 competition entrants, Stephen doesn’t hesitate:

“Think creatively, think outside the box, but really learn about leather. Learn about what makes leather different than other materials because that’s going to unlock a lot of creativity. It’s not the same as something else you might have used.  Take the time to learn it and to understand it and you’ll see that there are lots of things you can do with it that you might not have thought of before.”

To enter the International Student Design Competition 2021 click here!