Rumen Leather: Ick! vs. Fabulous!

Last week one of our trend publications featured a product called rumen leather that we posted about because it was just so ickily cool.

In the past week, we’ve had scores of email messages and conversations about this product, which isn’t one of ours, FYI.   What is curious is the very clear divide between consumer and maker messages.

Uniformly the consumer messages fell unequivocally into the ‘disgusting/gross/OMG you can’t really mean you’d use that’ camp.  The maker messages, on the other hand, wanted to know how much it cost, what the hand was like, it’s availability, how it would wear…in short, all of the questions a designer would ask before trying to specify it as a component in a product.

What was interesting to us about this body of correspondence, and the divide between vile/disgusting and let’s-use-it, is that this is the same historical chasm between creator and consumer that divides us in our understanding.  To a creator, anything can be fodder for a creative endeavor, even something like raw meat to make a dress for Lady Gaga (ok, going open kimono, we thought that was disgusting…cool but disgusting).

A consumer who is accustomed to buying their carefully pressed and folded T-shirt off the rack doesn’t see the T-shirt as its component parts of a pile of cotton fibers and some dye, nor do they necessarily see the T-shirt itself as being a possible future component that could be distressed and upcycled into something new and (one hopes) more interesting.

It is this dichotomy that lead to the Ick! vs. Fabulous! division in the communications about the rumen leather.

Makers tend to know their components come from somewhere – cotton fibers from cotton plants; leather from the skins of animals – and the origins concern us less than the supply chain questions (where do you get it, is it available, how much).  Consumers largely do not know or care about the supply chain considerations and tend to be pretty insulated from the actual ingredients list in their products.

Sure, we can read the labels, but we’re betting that if rumen leather were actually used it would be listed as ‘cow leather’, not as ‘cow stomach leather’.

We’re also willing to bet that if a designer used rumen leather in some fabulous thing like a handbag, and she slapped a pretty name on the specialty leather (velvet leather, maybe) that far from being icky, rumen leather would in fact be trendy and highly coveted and sought after. And we would so want that bag, albeit for different reasons.