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One hundred years of SATRA: the 2000s

Continuing our decade-by-decade review of SATRA’s 100-year-long history by considering progress since the turn of the century.

by Stuart Morgan

What would the new millennium hold for the world’s footwear and leather industries? In the January 2000 issue of SATRA Bulletin, chief executive Dr Ron Whittaker wrote: ‘The year 2000 opens a new beginning and provides a major opportunity for all of us to review forward strategy. SATRA looks forward to continuing to assist members improve their competitiveness and increase overall business. We enter the 21st century in a strong position and look forward to the opportunities and challenges ahead.

‘In our ‘Study of the global footwear industry in 2010’, we predicted four main drivers of change: globalisation, customer demands, retail changes and technical developments. Globalisation will increase with more footwear being made in the Far East and other low-cost areas, and the power of global brands will become much more dominant in the market.

‘Consumers will not tolerate poor quality; they demand products which are good value for money and will not fail in wear. On the technical side, new materials offering improved comfort, appearance and easy clean will appear and constructions will change to provide more flexible, comfortable footwear.

‘Many more factors will influence the industry, but companies need to take all of them into account when developing their strategic plans. SATRA, as the leading international research and technology organisation, will continue to support members with the new challenges of the 21st century in just the same way as we have done over the last 80 years.’

Growth in systems and services

In the first month of the new year, Chinese footwear producer Gong Shenq became the 300th company to purchase the SATRASumm production efficiency system since its launch in 1981. By this time, SATRASumm was being used in over 40 countries around the world.

The rich diversity of SATRA’s research and testing services was growing rapidly in expertise and coverage as the organisation grew in stature. While the assessment of footwear continued to be its core business, increasing legislation led to demand for high-quality testing from a number of sectors, including automotive, furniture, floor coverings, toys, homeware and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for industrial and sporting applications.

An early prototype of SATRA’s biomechanical foot test machine in 2001

Praise was received from Bata Canada’s chairman as he toured SATRA’s facilities in May 2000. “I wanted to witness the cutting edge of technology here – and I have not been disappointed,” said Jim Pantelidies, who was accompanied by Peter Dierx, vice president of Bata Manufacturing Systems (Canada), in addition to Bata’s UK managing director Peter Nicholls and chief chemist Trevor Nightingale. According to Mr Pantelidis, both he and Peter Nicholls were relatively new to their current roles and were eager to learn as much about all of SATRA’s activities as quickly as possible.

As the Wyndham Way site was extended, the amount of environmentally-controlled laboratory space increased. In September 2000, SATRA purchased an environmental chamber, and today has the capability of assessing products from -40˚C to +50˚C and at relative humidity between 10 and 90 per cent.

Membership increasing

One hundred new members joined SATRA during 2000, with membership income increasing by more than 6 per cent to represent almost 30 per cent of total turnover. Not only did footwear and leather company membership increase in Europe, North and South America and Asia during the year, but several companies also joined from within the clothing, furniture and accessories sectors.

SATRA’s total income for 2001 topped £6.4 million – a record for the organisation up to that time. According to chief executive Dr Ron Whittaker, keeping costs under strict control had enabled SATRA to generate a surplus of £300,000 for future investment.

Another 100 members were recruited from around the world during 2001, leading Dr Whittaker to comment: “It is a remarkable achievement to have reached a milestone figure of 1,500 members within 70 countries, and that total includes a significant number from south east Asia. It reflects on the professionalism and hard work of our membership development and services teams.”

SATRA invested more than £250,000 into a number of key research projects in 2001, leading to the creation of the ‘Advanced Concepts Research Group’. According to the July/August 2002 issue of SATRA Bulletin, the most important area investigated was that of comfort. Other noteworthy projects investigated accelerated leather testing, thermal properties, hose comfort, slip resistance, permeable membranes and whole sole abrasion testing.

An extra two acres of land was secured next to the Wyndham Way site on the outskirts of Kettering to allow for the expansion of this new facility.

SAFT in Hong Kong

Elaine Ng became the first Asian candidate to gain SATRA Accredited Footwear Technologist (SAFT) status. Elaine, who was executive director of custom-made orthotic insole producer Pedorthic Technology in Hong Kong, undertook the five key modules and examination when SATRA experts took the course to Asia in 2001 and 2002.

Accolade for SATRA chairman

SATRA chairman Iain Kennedy was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s New Year Honours List for 2002, granted in recognition of his services to the UK footwear industry. He first became involved with SATRA as a member of its governing council in the 1970s. Shortly before Iain received his OBE, he had retired from his role as chairman of Northampton-based high-end shoe manufacturer Church & Co.

Developing chemical analysis

As with the physical testing of footwear and materials, SATRA’s chemical analysis services have proved vitally important to members since the British Boot, Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association’s very beginning. Modern technology has totally changed the face of testing. Photographs of SATRA’s chemistry laboratories in past decades reveal no sign of a computer, and wet testing using an array of glassware was commonplace.

When SATRA’s chemical testing department moved into Wyndham Way in 2003, it brought along one Gas Chromatography with Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) unit. Today the laboratory has five of these devices, which are commonly used to detect and quantify specific restricted substances in consumer goods.

During 2003, SATRA’s membership income exceeded £2 million for the first time. This considerable achievement saw more than 98 per cent of the organisation’s existing members retaining membership, in addition to over 110 new companies joining.

China office and laboratory

A considerable proportion of the world’s footwear is made in China, most of which is produced in the south of the country. Many SATRA members have factories or sourcing operations in Guangdong and surrounding provinces, and being able to offer representation to SATRA members in the region became very important.

For many years, SATRA’s operations in China were overseen by UK staff visiting on a consultancy basis. Then, in order to establish a full-time and permanent presence in Dongguan, SATRA opened an office there on January 1st 2004. This soon expanded to include both local Chinese staff and British nationals, providing local access to members of the SATRA team and a central point to which customers could submit samples to be sent via an express service to SATRA’s UK laboratories.

Thermal performance and moisture management

Comfort is perhaps the key characteristic of any good item of footwear, and over the past century SATRA has researched into many aspects of this attribute. One of the most noteworthy accomplishments in this field was the development of the SATRA test equipment used to determine specific aspects of comfort.

During the late 1990s, SATRA contributed to the development of a ‘breathing foot’ to ascertain the effectiveness of footwear materials, and the November 2003 issue of SATRA Bulletin informed readers about the new ‘ComfortFoot’ test for sweat management. The testing of members’ footwear using a prototype machine began in 2004, and the first example of fully-functional test equipment to assess this characteristic was installed in SATRA’s footwear laboratory in January 2005. This machine – today called the STM 567 ‘Endofoot’ – and its associated SATRA test methods have established an impressive track record for the determination of two important footwear qualities associated with foot comfort: the footwear’s thermal performance and the efficiency of sweat (perspiration) management within the shoe or boot.

In operation, the SATRA Endofoot uses a moulded foot form which incorporates electrical heating elements and water supply pipes that distribute water (representing the sweat) to the surface of the foot. After a warming-up period to reach equilibrium, a realistic warm and humid environment is created which replicates that to be found inside a real shoe in wear. The dressed foot is then subjected to a calibrated flow of air over its surface to replicate movement through the air when walking, which helps to dissipate any moisture transmitted to the surface of the shoe.

Expansion at the new site

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the UK government’s minister for science and innovation, officially opened laboratories in a new £1.5 million extension at SATRA’s Wyndham Way complex in Kettering on October 15th 2004.

“SATRA is a model example of commitment to investment in research and development for the future,” he commented. “One of SATRA’s strengths has been its ability to adapt its strategy to changing worldwide markets.”

Phase 3 of the Wyndham Way complex under construction (2003)

Lord Sainsbury and Kettering member of Parliament Phil Sawford joined key industry representatives on a tour of the new laboratories, which included facilities for safety product and furniture testing. They also visited SATRA’s chemistry laboratory, in which recently installed equipment was being used to test for the presence of harmful substances in a wide range of consumer products, including footwear and leathergoods, as well as homeware and toys.

“SATRA has maintained its position as a world-class facility for the consumer product industry,” added Lord Sainsbury. “This ongoing investment in skill and knowledge maintains SATRA’s competitive edge.”

Four decades of progress

SATRA’s overall annual income exceeded £8 million for the first time in 2005, having grown by 8 per cent over the 2004 total. The July/August 2006 issue of SATRA Bulletin reported that this achievement maintained the organisation’s remarkable record of almost 40 years of continually increasing income year-on-year – without once running a deficit on the revenue account.

The growing demand for SATRA footwear test equipment led to the shipping of items to the value of almost £250,000 in just one month during 2005 – a record up to that time. Demand for SATRA testing of footwear and leathergoods was also increasing during the mid-2000s. Some 15 per cent more testing was undertaken for members in 2005 than during the previous 12 months. According to the March 2006 SATRA Bulletin, the increase lay in the submission of all types of general footwear and components, as well as safety footwear and leathergoods. This success was attributed to SATRA’s global reputation and acknowledged skills and experience.

Another key factor identified was the continued investment in new equipment, test machines and facilities. More than £100,000 was spent on new test equipment in 2005 alone, including the purchase of a third slip resistance tester.

Growth in Asia

SATRA’s China Office team worked tirelessly to introduce the value of SATRA membership to Asian companies. In addition to visiting prospective and existing companies located in such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, members of staff represented SATRA at an increasing number of major exhibitions in the region. By 2006, SATRA had nearly 300 member companies in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan alone.

The strategic development of SATRA’s operations in China took a major step forward in 2006, with the first meeting of the SATRA China Advisory Board (CAB). This body brought together some of the most influential people in the Chinese shoemaking industry, representing manufacturers, suppliers and experts in footwear testing. The first board members were SATRA chief executive Richard Turner, who acted as chairman, Bill Worswick (SATRA Asia business development manager), Martin Lee of Everite Group, Robert Tsai (Genfort Shoes), James Ho of Zhongshan Glory Shoes Industrial Co Ltd/Golden Chang, Pou Chen Group’s Joseph Shieh, Richard Riu (Sherwood Inc), Allen Ch’iu of Sang Fang Chemical Industry Co Ltd, Hong Kong Standards and Testing Centre’s Richard Fung and Richard Pai (Teh Chang Leather).

A 2006 photograph of SATRA China Advisory Board (CAB) members with Richard Turner (fifth from left) during the body’s first meeting

The continuing purpose of the CAB is to discuss all aspects of footwear and leather production relating to the Asian market, and to report on SATRA developments that benefit member companies working in the fields of shoemaking, tanning and footwear component supply. Meetings are generally held twice each year, often in CAB members’ own offices. These have been located in such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia and China.

CAB meetings often include tours of the host company’s factories, as well as visits to other facilities, including the sites of proposed improvements to infrastructure that would benefit local industry.

A noteworthy landmark was reached in mid-2006, when Deng Hong Mei, laboratory supervisor at Shing Tak Dongguan, became SATRA’s 750th accredited technician. Deng said: “It is an honour to receive this award. I also appreciate how SATRA’s consultants have helped us to set up a world-class test laboratory.”

Moving home

In the second half of 2006, SATRA moved its entire footwear testing laboratory – with more than 100 pieces of equipment and a 35-strong team – to new facilities in the expanding Wyndham Way complex. The new open-plan facility was controlled at 23˚C and 50 per cent relative humidity, and represented an investment of more than £330,000. Over the years, SATRA’s scientific testing of footwear, components and related materials has grown in scope and technological complexity to become the world-leading research establishment it is today. Recently-developed tests have become routine, including the ‘advanced moisture management test’, water resistance testing, cold rating evaluation and the use of a whole bank of SATRA Pedatron biomechanical abrasion test machines.

SATRA extended its United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) scope as a certified body for ISO 9001 quality management systems in 2006. After a successful audit visit by UKAS, code EA6 – covering the manufacture of certain wood-based products, including wooden lasts for footwear, and shoes and sandals manufactured from cork, straw and plaiting materials – was added to the areas SATRA could certify.

SATRA’s entire footwear testing laboratory – with more than 100 pieces of equipment and a 35-strong team – moved to Wyndham Way during the second half of 2006

A new CEO

After 38 years with SATRA, Dr Ron Whittaker, who had been the organisation’s chief executive since 1991, retired in June 2007. His successor was deputy CEO Richard Turner, with executive director Austin Simmons stepping into the role of deputy chief executive.

SATRA Technical Brief

In order to provide information for SATRA members in China, a regular Chinese-language publication called SATRA Technical Brief (STB) was first distributed in mid-2007. This magazine contains articles on technical footwear- and leather-related topics that have been initially published in the English-language SATRA Bulletin, as well as regional news reports.

The Chinese-language SATRA Technical Brief was first published in mid-2007

To provide the required level of service to members and space for expansion over the following decade, the decision was taken to expand the Wyndham Way premises by a further 24,000 square feet during 2007. This new wing – called ‘phase 4’ – was to be home to a new base for SATRA’s research work, the largest furniture testing facility in the UK, new flammability chambers and a specially-commissioned environmental testing area for footwear and other products. When finished, phase 4 completed the development of a 75,000 square foot advanced consumer product testing facility and represented a total investment of more than £5 million.

Deputy chief executive Richard Turner (left) with Dr Ron Whittaker (chief executive) outside Wyndham Way’s phase 4 extension in 2007

Challenging times

There was global financial turmoil in 2008 – a time when banks suffered huge losses and stock markets were almost in freefall mode. As the world entered a period of severe recession at the end of the decade, SATRA had a sound financial base. However, it was still necessary to tread with caution. Nevertheless, the organisation was able to invest in its facilities – including the China office – training dedicated members of staff to deliver the best level of service to members.

The next article in this series will investigate the organisation’s activities in the current decade.

How can we help?

This series of articles, which began in the January 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin, is being published to mark the milestone of SATRA’s centenary during 2019.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 34 of the October 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

Other articles from this issue »