CREATIVE DIRECTOR, FEMI HANDBAGS & FOUNDER, LAGOS LEATHER FAIR
How do you go from running a leather goods company to running a leather goods fair, with many more moving parts?
It was a pretty wild leap and I will be the first to admit that it takes some guts to move from managing a small-scale factory to organizing a Leather Fair with the many moving parts as you so rightly put it! But I am a bit of a risk taker and having operated within the leather space for over twenty five years, it seemed to me that the many frustrations I felt, alongside other leather designers, were never ending. If it wasn’t a lack of adequate raw materials, it was a near absence of workmen and women with the right work ethic, or without the requisite skills. For many years I searched for answers and hoped that things would improve. I even went as far as exploring the possibility of having my products manufactured abroad, but was well aware that such a move would have its own attendant problems. I started to research solutions and decided that one of the ways to bring our plight to the attention of the powers that be and the policy makers would be to create a platform and congregate all the players under one roof to seek sustainable solutions. I decided that, having been a practitioner for so long, I had a better way than most to bring the challenges to the notice of the federal government and I wanted to be part of the solution. I spent a lot of hours asking questions and talking to people in the industry and once I had enough information, it was all the ammunition I needed. I took a leap of faith and ran with it.
What is the ideal scenario for the leather goods industry in Nigeria? If things worked, what would this industry look like: across its value chain, in terms of economic potential, e.t.c? For instance if the “7 million cattle slaughtered annually” was directed towards leather goods?
The Leather industry in Nigeria has been struggling to survive and has been greatly neglected in the recent past primarily due to certain cultural, economic and technological factors which have greatly hindered its growth. In an ideal situation, the industry will have to keep up with the technological and infrastructural advances in that sector in order to survive and remain competitive. What this means is that assuming we slaughter 7 million cows, we would be expected to utilise up-to-date technologies and provide infrastructural support from start to finish to enhance the export potential of our finished products. What this means is that from the abattoir or slaughter houses where the animals are slaughtered, to the checking and collection of skins, to the tanning stages where the raw skins are processed, tanned, post-tanned, coloured, finished and converted into what we all recognise as finished leather, the necessary preservation materials and chemicals will have to be made available, well organised systems would have to be in place along that entire value chain, and the many different processes well structured. There would have to be excellent communication facilities and supportive government policies in place, cost of labour would be minimised, and serious technical knowledge on production must exist. And then of course there must be the appropriate machinery, metal hardware (eg. zips, buckles, and magnetic clasps), components and accessories for the final production of FLGs (Finished Leather Goods). With these in place, Nigeria will be well on its way to achieving high level commercial growth, and becoming a force to be reckoned with while the export value and marketability of its finished products will be enhanced.
The leather fair you founded is only a year old. What changes are you beginning to see as regards “changing the narrative of the leather industry”, if any?
The Lagos Leather Fair was a very interesting challenge. The primary goal was to draw private and public attention to the activities within the industry and highlight the volume of work that was going on in that space. In so doing, we also hoped to provide a viable platform, which did not exist, for the hundreds of leather designers operating in Nigeria. We achieved both aims. The Fair afforded established, up-andcoming and startup designers to showcase their talent and a great number of them have succeeded in taking their business to new levels of success as a result of the exposure from the event. It also drew attention to the many challenges our designers and producers face at the materials sourcing, production, branding and marketing levels. A few deals have been brokered between manufacturers and designers, and the many untapped possibilities within the industry were revealed. The crucial importance of skills-transfer was highlighted as an imperative to improve the craftsmanship levels of a lot of the producers and a series of quarterly leather trainings have been initiated by FemiHandbags in partnership with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. In addition, following the Fair, policy makers and experts have again come together to review the laws and policies governing activities in the leather industry; these are now awaiting validation. The most interesting outcome however was the level of awareness that was created amongst a discerning audience who hitherto had not imagined that such great talent could emanate from within our shores and Made-in-Nigeria leather