For the Love of Leather
They live out of the suitcase, as they frequently travel abroad and hardly spend more than one night in one place? and all day long they attend to the most important material for shoes: The Gabor leather acceptors. Gerhard Olsacher is one of them. Why does he in spite of its many strains still love this profession after 26 years? His reply leaves no doubts: »Leather is my passion.«
Responsibility for Top Quality
On site at the tanneries, Gerhard Olsacher inspects each individual hide before it is shipped to Gabor. Only if the quality is right, the leather acceptor punches the skin with a special tool. »If it has been punched, it can be shipped to Gabor«, he explains. Leather is an expensive commodity on the world market. Olsacher′s decisions affect goods worth millions. Is he doing a good job? The experienced leather acceptor knows if he does not hear any complaints from the incoming materials or production departments. There, only top quality is accepted and processed. The highest demands are made towards the visual, technical and mechanical properties of the leather? After all, Gabor customers expect top quality shoes. Currently, Gabor is purchasing 65 different kinds of leather, and, as each variety is used in several colours, Gabor lists about 300 »leather items«. Gerhard Olsacher knows them all.
A Feeling for the Fashion
To punch or not to punch? The leather acceptor's decision is aided by a strict Gabor checklist. Among other things, it features criteria such as strength, hide size, colour, visual appearance, softness and grip as well as various technical characteristics. Of all leather, Gabor demands a high degree of uniformity. Currently, though, about 70 percent of all leather processed is styled leather such as used or shrink appearance styles. Rather individual leather, not uniform by definition. Olsacher has to decide whether the styled leather is within the strict Gabor standard and whether it suits the assortment. He therefore also requires a feeling for the fashion. He must see the shoe behind the leather. Material not suitable for one shoe can be just right for another. At the tannery, Gerhard Olsacher is the man on the spot who makes decisions all by himself. This requires a lot of sensitivity, in his mind and in his fingers. »The leather must have this typical leather feel. I need to touch it and fall in love«, Olsacher explains.
A Diplomat as Well
A leather acceptor's job would be easy if all came down to saying »yes« or »no«. However, Gabor depends on leather supply not only of the desired quality and uniformity but also in the quantities required. Tanners on the other hand cannot always supply the desired quality. Their reasoning is: »leather is a natural material.« Also, Italian shoe manufacturers ? Gabor purchases most of its leather at the Italian tanning centres around Verona, Pisa/Florence and Naples/Salofra? are more open to accept deviations. The regard the uniqueness as a particularly fashionable feature. Olsacher explains Gabor?s position and gives advice to tanners. He is consultant and diplomat as well. »Italian tanners have their pride «, he knows from experience. Olsacher needs to advance his criticism of the leather with great care. With the tanners, he considers if and how the material can still be used and what can be done to improve future qualities. »I make a proposal«, Olsacher says. The responsibility, however, is with the tanner. If a proposal for improvement proves successful, on the other hand, additional trust is established. The »worst case«, a repeated production cycle, would mean a three week delay, as tanners do not produce to stock. From purchase order to shipment, lead times are usually one month. »Three weeks are the absolute minimum«, says Olsacher.
Always on Site
At least weekly, the leather acceptor visits his Italian tanners. A regular, frequent contact is essential for effective collaboration. During the sampling phase, co-ordination with the central purchasing department is particularly close. Usually, a small quantity is produced under serial conditions first. The leather acceptor is required to supply feedback in detail ? optimally saying: »perfect!«
How to Become a Leather Acceptor
Olsacher acquired his expertise from the renowned Reutlingen, Germany, tanner?s school and during internal training at Gabor at the incoming goods department, in leather sorting, in cutting and in production. His education was, however, not enough to prepare him for interaction with various people and cultures. »I was glad then to have an experienced colleague at my side.« It takes two years of experience on the job until a leather acceptor is considered good. Now, Gerhard Olsacher himself offers guidance and advice to a young colleague. »His experience and his sensibility to leather are a valuable asset«, purchasing manager Andreas Bobbert confirms.
Born to Travel
»You must love travelling«, Gerhard Olsacher, who is fluent in English and Italian, mentions another prerequisite for his profession. He likes to stay at time-tested hotels to which he is a regular guest. For a married family man it is not always easy permanently to be on the road. Most of his time, he spends in Italy, as the Italians are leading suppliers of the leather qualities currently in demand. The list of countries he travels for Gabor, however, is long. He has been to diverse countrys in Asia, South America and Europe. Thus, Olsacher has gathered much experience dealing with cultural specifics. Still he holds: »Work for me is the same regardless«. This is because the focus is always the material for the shoes: The leather.