Leather has been a part of the African heritage, way back when sawing machines did not exist. Although leather was not an industry back then, several apparels and household items relied on the material. Since then, it has grown into a large industry with initiatives supported by international agencies, which have played a positive role in this evolution that is largely determined by trends in supply and demand for raw-materials and leather products.
African countries have been exposed to “competitive pressures” experienced in the sector attributed to growth, cheap labor, productivity, external trade and prices. As a result, the sector unfortunately remained a complimentary sector to those in China, India etc., rather than a competing sector.
The All-African Leather Fair looks to change that by highlighting the capabilities and qualities of African leather producers. It prepares a well-informed panel that leads the group in discussions involving Africa’s ability to produce leather sustainably, how the industry could finance, empower, manufacture, and handle other logistics and investment opportunities. The AALF is known as Africa’s biggest textile and garment discussion platform.
“The event set out to showcase Ethiopia’s leather products at the world-wide stage. We were aware of the image the rest of the world has of Ethiopia especially in light of current events; so to counteract this image, we showed the level Ethiopia has reached with regards to the leather industry, introducing our resources to the world market,” said Zelalem Merhawi, a co-organizer of the event and owner of Ker Ezhi Leather manufacturing Plc.
“Since Ethiopia is joining the African Free Trade route, we sought it best to interact with other African industries in preparation for that. On top of all this, we needed to show alternate manufacturing options since Ethiopia has been delisted from AGOA,” added Zelalem.
The fair lasted from December 3 – 6, with the conference held at the Skylight hotel. The weekend was packed with activities that even included a tour to leather factories around Addis Ababa and discussions of a more organic leather industry that is more sustainable than the one used right now.
“Almost all Ethiopian manufacturers were in attendance, unwaveringly giving their insights on issues and what could be done going forward. They sacrificed four days-off of their busy schedules to showcase the growing industry and explain in detail, what is being done and what could be improved. More than 5000 visitors stopped by to gather expertise and knowledge from the four-day event,” said Zelalem.
Samuel Kirithu, a UNIDO Consultant, conducted a research in which he found that the future role of the African leather industry would be determined by the ability of African enterprises to make efficient use of “production factors” in their favor, to improve performance and image at the market place.
In this regard, they must in the future acquire characteristics, which will enable them respond to customer needs rapidly and diversify products. There is growing interest especially from Europeans in producing leather products in Africa and this is coupled with a new trend by Asian importers, especially Chinese, importing semi-processed materials rather than raw hides and skins.
Africa is fast emerging as one of the future markets for sourcing quality leather and hides for the booming global leather industry. Leather and leather products are among the most widely traded and universally used commodities in the world.
According to Samuel, the total value of annual trade is estimated to be 1.5 times the value of meat trade; more than five times that of coffee and more than eight times that of rice. Formal international trade in leather and leather goods is estimated to be at over USD 50 billion a year and the market is far from saturated.
Samuel estimates that in the next decade, the demand for leather raw materials (hides) and finished products may exceed supply, making the leather industry one of the most lucrative business sectors in the years to come.
The fair also served as a platform for designers to showcase their leather works. Provided with a studded runway, they graced the audience with original works that highlighted the importance of tapping into one’s roots to go forward in fashion. In addition, the designers and models had a chance to network with an array of leather producers from across Ethiopia.
“The fair was amazing; it has helped me realize that our leather products have great quality and design,” said Binyam Bekele who was working as a model.
The leather industry has shown drastic growth in the past couple of years. It has been going through some dynamic changes with the tanning sector being modernized and several new shoe factories being built. The penetration of footwear products from Ethiopia to EU markets during the past couple of years has also served as a major milestone in the development of the industry.
Zelalem says that the growing misrepresentation of Ethiopia by western media will not slow down the people from growing at such a fast-pace.
In the event, the opportunity to establishing foreign partnerships was recognized, with the panel discussing Business-to-Business Meetings and the importance of availing opportunity for local and international traders, to connect and discuss possible market opportunities. One could consider it as a top-of-the-line networking experience, with the show having private sessions organized for registered exhibitors and high-end buyers.
“Manufacturers and suppliers from 17 different countries attended the event, not only from the leather industry but from the textile field as well. This presented an opportunity to interact with a pool of well-versed individuals looking to grow together. Since Ethiopia is one of the top leather producers in Africa, it is only fair to take advantage of the tax-free exports to exchange with other African countries,” added Zelalem.
Going forward, the fare has laid out a solid foundation through which they could build and make Africans sufficient without looking outside the continent.
“Going forward we believe that each and every Ethiopian is responsible for utilizing products made in Ethiopia in order to fill the demand gap without looking for western help. We have been too comfortable in the past that we did not see the need to look for solutions from within, but now everything is different. We should all strap up and be the solution our country needs. As our Prime Minister put it, we can find gold if we’re willing to get our hands dirty,” Zelalem said.
“Ethiopia is too great of a country and we are going to do our part by ridding the country of poverty. Our next event is going to have more buyers from all over the country. It is going to be bigger than ever. Ethiopia is the owner of the All-African Leather fair and we plan on franchising it across Africa, taking the fair to other African countries and let Ethiopia be prosperous in the process. We’re doing our part and we hope everyone plays their part as well,” concluded Zelalem.