The Nige­rian leather in­dus­try has steadily con­trib­uted an es­ti­mated N85­bil­lion an­nu­ally to the coun­try’s GDP since 2009. The in­dus­try gen­er­ates an an­nual in­come of N24.5 bil­lion with lim­ited sup­port and is ex­pected to con­trib­ute an es­ti­mated N12­bil­lion in in­for­mal ex­ports to West-Africa year-on-year. It cur­rently en­gages about 143,000 peo­ple in the fin­ished leather goods sec­tor at var­i­ous lev­els from in­put sup­ply to pro­duc­tion, and from pro­cess­ing to trad­ing but has the ca­pac­ity to cre­ate over 700,000 di­rect and in­di­rect jobs. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 World Bank re­port, leather and leather al­lied goods can eas­ily be­come Nigeria’s sec­ond largest non-oil ex­port and its sec­ond big­gest earner of for­eign ex­change af­ter Oil and Gas. How­ever, although Nige­rian leather is still mainly used in the pro­duc­tion of shoes and bags, re­sult­ing in thriv­ing lo­cal pro­duc­tion and ex­por­ta­tion to re­gional West Africa, the coun­try still im­ports about $500 mil­lion worth of leather prod­ucts an­nu­ally. Also, of the 31 in­dige­nous tan­ner­ies in the coun­try, 20 have closed down while 11 of the 12 shoe man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies lo­cated in Kano, Sokoto, Lagos and Abia state also closed down be­tween 2000 and 2011. Presently, ma­jor tan­ner­ies in Nigeria con­tinue to pro­duce for ex­port.

A num­ber of lead­ers have emerged in this in­dus­try - against all odds - work­ing tire­lessly to re­verse this statis­tic. There is Femi Olayebi, who founded the Lagos Leather Fair to shine a spot­light on the im­mense po­ten­tial of this in­dus­try and give a plat­form to proudly Nige­rian creators and de­sign­ers such as Aisha Ugah, Ginika Okafor, Ote­jiri Ejum­abone and Yemisi Oladapo. Col­lec­tively, they are by hand cre­at­ing what the fu­ture of ex­port in Nigeria could look like. AY­O­DEJI ROTINWA had a conversation with all five de­sign­ers, es­sen­tially rep­re­sent­ing count­less more, on what it would like for the leather in­dus­try to move from po­ten­tial eco­nomic con­trib­u­tor to an in­evitable one

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