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

9 May 2016

Leather producers in Eastern and Southern Africa have traditionally exported raw hides, bringing in a limited income but a new design studio that opens today in Mombasa, Kenya promises to increase the value of 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 and provides employment to a large section of workers. Growth in the sector would have a significant and positive economic impact for a number of countries. The first training workshop led by design experts will take place from 9 to 12 May.

“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 produced a solution that will advance the leather 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, continuing to export low-end, low value goods.

Over the last two decades, the region’s import of finished leather goods has been steadily rising, which demonstrates 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, 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 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. 

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