New design studio set to transform leather industry in Eastern and Southern Africa

By Commonwealth Secretariat

Leather producers in Eastern and Southern Africa have traditionally exported raw hides which have a limited value but a new design studio that opens today in Mombasa, Kenya promises to advance the leather market. Providing artisanal skills and fashion design expertise, the studio will boost the industry by opening up new business opportunities for the production of high-end leather goods.

The project aims to bring in a wide range of regional and international designers to help transform leather production. The leather industry in Eastern and Southern Africa is sizeable, providing employment to a large section of workers. Growth in the sector would be of significant economic benefit to a number of countries.

“This is an exciting and important project that promises to increase economic growth in Eastern and Southern Africa. Working closely with COMESA partners, we have identified what is missing in terms of production, skills and training and come up with a solution that will advance the industry and bring about greater prosperity,” said Rashmi Banga, Head of Trade Competitiveness at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

At present the region is the largest source of the basic raw material in the global industry, but the leather is exported with little value addition. Exporting the raw material can be counterproductive for countries because they get stuck at the bottom end of the value chain and continue to export low-end, low value goods.

Over the last two decades, the region's import of finished leather goods has been steadily rising, demonstrating there is an established domestic market. The labour-intensive nature of the industry means that growth in the sector will inevitably lead to large-scale job creation, as well as better export competitiveness and greater participation in regional and global value chains.

The Commonwealth-COMESA Regional Studio is a joint initiative between the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Leather and Leather Products Institute (COMESA/LLPI). It will bring together more than 50 designers and national, regional and international partners in the leather sector from 11 African countries (Swaziland, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Burundi and Rwanda). The first training workshop led by design experts will take place from 9 to 12 May.

“The leather sector in Eastern and Southern Africa has great potential to deliver the much needed linkages into global value chains. This will have a huge 'trickling down' effect, increasing economic prospects for our rural and pastoral communities,” said Mwinyikione Mwinyihija, Executive Director of COMESA/LLPI.