• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria’s over N25bn leather value-chain to receive new lease of life

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At the peak of Nigeria’s recession, that is, over two quarters of consecutive negative economic growth, since the first quarter of 2016, economic diversification became paramount and Nigerians started looking inwards to grow the naira.

The campaign for Made in Nigeria products took a new dimension and the awareness has grown that even without compulsion, Nigerian leaders assumed front-row in actively drumming up support for products. Senator Ben Murray Bruce kicked off the spirit by amplifying the hashtag #BuyNaijatoGrowtheNaira on Twitter two years ago.

In this light, locally Finished Leather Goods (FLGs) such as shoes, handbags and other fashion accessories hold great investment opportunities. The leather industry has been identified by the Bank of Industry to generate an annual income of N24.5 billion with limited support and also have the capacity to create over 700,000 direct and indirect jobs, therefore implying that the industry has not been maximized to its full potential.

The Lagos Leather Fair is a first of its kind in Nigeria for all the stakeholders along the leather value chain, and was created to identify the challenges facing the industry with the hope to discuss possible innovative and sustainable solutions. The first edition held 2017, and this year the fair is scheduled to hold on the May 5 and 6 of May, 2018 at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos.

Founded by Femi Olayebi of Femi Handbags, the fair is a private initiative that seeks to promote leather designers by creating a networking platform to showcase their work and eventually provide the much-needed training for artisans that would essentially improve the general quality of our finished products.

In 2017 over 2,500 people gathered for the first edition of the fair to learn from the various master classes, panel discussions and creative workshops. Attendees also got to shop and discover Made-in-Nigeria leather products from over 50 leather exhibitors.

According to Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology who spoke at the validation workshop on National Leather and Leather Products Policy held in Sokoto in January 2018, ‘the leather industry is the nation’s next gold mine and holds the key to industrial growth, jobs and wealth creation’. He also described the leather industry as ‘strategic in view of its importance in the economic diversification of the country’.     

The most popular FLG products are footwear (around 85 percent of all FLGs). Slippers and sandals comprise around 80 percent of footwear production, data from Growth and Employment in States (GEM) shows. GEM’s programme is a five-year programme jointly funded by the World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom. GEM 2012 report estimates the annual market for Nigeria FLGs at about $200 billion.

The main FLG production areas are Kano, Onitsha, Aba and Lagos. Covered shoes dominate production in Aba with an annual production of 6, 000, 000 shoes at an average retail price of N5, 000 ($ 16) per unit this gives N3 billion ($10 million) annually. This is only for the captured covered shoes market. One thing seems clear, there is great potential here. Covered shoes are equally significant in Lagos and Onitsha, while slippers and sandals are dominant in Kano and Kaduna.

However, FLG producers specialise in low-end products or poor quality with poor finish, made with technologies and tools that have been mostly abandoned in the rest of the world. Nigeria manufactures and sells only low-end shoes and slippers of poor quality, while more than 120 million pairs of basic, medium quality leather shoes are imported from Asia.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is sourcing high quality, unique leather materials locally for our production. In addition the local artisans might be skilled but their finishing often falls below international standards” said Eseoghene Odiete, founder/CEO Hesey Designs Ltd.

Another shoe maker, Francis Chukwu, managing director, Frantonia Industries Limited said that apart from military and paramilitary shoes, school shoes are also in high demand.

He explained that his production capacity has increased from 100 pairs per day to 250 pairs per day.

To meet with demands, Chukwu said he has increased the number of ancillary staff from two to four people. For instance, I’m currently making shoes for schools and these schools are coming from outside the state.

He said also that importers are now patronising quality shoes made-in-Aba but appealed to Federal and State Governments to provide infrastructure, especially roads and electricity, to support industrialisation.

The Aba leather products cluster was identified as the densest in Nigeria. It consists of over 15,000 enterprises with 23,000 regular employees and an annual turnover of $100 million.

This year, the fair is themed ‘The New Possible’ as it will focus on the many possibilities and massive potential the Nigeria leather industry has to offer. To encourage up and coming designers, the “Emerging Designers Competition” has been introduced, and is aimed at giving young, aspiring leather designers an opportunity and a platform to showcase their work. The top five finalists will win a cash prize, a mentoring opportunity and a booth at the Fair.

STEPHEN ONYEKWELU