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THE leather industry occupies a place of prominence in the Zimbabwean economy in view of its potential for higher employment, growth and value-added exports.

Zimbabwe’s vision 2030 calls for the transforming of the country to attain a middle-income status by year 2030 and the leather sector is among the key sectors earmarked for transformation.

As part of efforts to position itself for enhanced quality standards and scaling up output along the value chain, the country is working closely with the Common Market for Southern Africa (Comesa, to establish the first modern Satellite Leather Design Studio.

Through its specialised unit, the Africa Leather and Leather products (ALLPI), Comesa has provided the funding to the Government to facilitate the development of this design studio, which will be located at the Leather Institute of Zimbabwe (LIZ) in Bulawayo. Many people could be wondering what is the significance of this design studio thing?

Following the official launch early this month of the new Zimbabwe Leather Sector Strategy (2021-2030) in Bulawayo by Vice-President, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, hopes are high that the revitalisation of the leather sector will be fully realised in the short to medium term.

The proposed establishment of a Satellite Design Studio in Zimbabwe, thus, is expected to be a game-changer in the country’s leather sector value chain as it would help unlock more opportunities for small to medium enterprise clusters and cooperatives, according to industry experts.

In a recent document detailing the state of the leather sector, which was seen by Business Chronicle, the ZLDC commends the Government for creating a supportive policy framework and expresses optimism that the design studio would impact positively on their industry.

“The offer of the Satellite Design Studio to Zimbabwe by the facilitation of Comesa-ALLPI through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has come at an opportune time and it will certainly be a game changer for the whole Zimbabwe leather sector value chain and more especially for the clusters/cooperatives, MSMEs and rural youth and women leather crafts manufacturers,”

said ZLDC.

The leather design studio, said the industry body, would be helpful in harnessing materials and inputs of latest trends for the training of industry players and other stakeholders. This is envisaged to increase the competency and regional and global performance of the Zimbabwe leather and leather products manufacturing sector in terms of product development, range building and trend forecasting, design interpretation.

“The Zimbabwe Leather Development Council notes with great appreciation and gratitude some of the policies and the general good will put in place by the Government of Zimbabwe for the leather value chain and overall industrial development of the country in line with the overall development vision and aspirations of the nation,”

said ZLDC.

The setting up of a design studio in Zimbabwe is in view of the establishment of the Regional Design Studio (RDS) in Ethiopia, which is a flagship project for ALLPI endorsed by the Council of Ministers meeting held in Madagascar in 2016. According to ALLPI, the Satellite Design Studios in ALLPI member states will be linked to the RDS.

“The regional design studio project aims to boost design originality and branding through inculcating design thinking, product development, quality assurance and entrepreneurship, which will contribute to strengthening the Zimbabwe leather clusters’ capacity to participate in national, regional and global export markets,”

said ALLPI.

Industry and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, has said that Bulawayo, as the country’s manufacturing hub, would play a leading role in implementation of leather transformation projects. The thrust ties closely with the country’s efforts to diversify its economy and expand the product market under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which came into force in January this year.

Across the African region the leather sector is regarded as a low-hanging fruit given the region’s comparative advantages on the livestock value chain. For Zimbabwe the leather sector is particularly expected to play a key role in Zimbabwe’s export-led re-industrialisation drive and import substitution.

Hence, among the objectives of the new leather strategy is to increase capacity utilisation of value-added products from 30 percent to 75 percent by the end of 2030. The strategy also seeks to enhance the application of sustainable production technologies by manufacturing companies from the current 10 percent to 60 percent by 2030 and increasing the export of leather products from 10 percent of production to 40 percent.

In Ethiopia and Malawi, which have established leather design studios, the leather sector is already reaping the benefits of the state -of-the-art design and product development, pattern engineering and prototyping of common products such as school shoes, boots for the security and mining sectors, among others.

Since the development of the last Zimbabwe Leather Strategy 2012-17, there has been an increasing emphasis on the sector’s planned development, aimed at optimum utilisation of available raw materials for maximizing the returns, particularly from exports.

However, the implementation of the last leather sector strategy was characterized by low performance in all five strategic objectives of the period.

ZLDC, the mother body of all leather sector cluster associations, says this was due to a large extent to the general macro-economic bottlenecks including imports of finished leather products, leakages of hides along the value chain with up to 30 percent of hides being unaccounted for.

It said another contributory factor to lack of success of the last round sector strategy was lack of a shared common vision among the value chain players. Riding on the latest good will and policy review by the Government, there is need going forward, for key leather sector players to iron out their differences and collaborate to ensure the sector thrives again.

The continued cat and mouse chases between local authorities, law enforcement agents and MSMEs leather artisans on the streets or pavements must also be addressed amicably.

In this regard the ZLDC has proposed the introduction of ‘pilot leather city’ market outlets mainly in the country’s major cities of Bulawayo and Harare where the leather artisans/clusters/cooperatives can market their products in a properly regulated manner, which will result in respective local authorities deriving better tax revenues and also allowing the operators to be better monitored for product quality issues.

Bolstering domestic industrial production and exports are at the heart of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1:2021-2025), a critical building block towards Vision 2030.

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