The leather industry in Kenyan and East Africa has gone through a number of challenges in the recent past. However, some of these hurdles are set to be addressed once a new digital platform goes live next month. 

The Leather Industry Network (LIN), a virtual space for the region’s leather industry, promises to be a game-change by being a one-stop shop for the industry players.

LIN, which is a partnership between the Center for Business Innovation & Training (CIBiT) and national leather associations in East Africa, seeks to connect, formulate, exchange, disseminate information, and advocate common interests.

The platform was borne out of the EAC Strategy and Implementation Roadmap for Leather, Leather Products and Footwear Sector (EAC-Secretariat, 2018) recommendations.

Beatrice Mwasi, CIBiT Team Lead, says through the platform businesses will be able “to gather to interact, monitor trends, and build advocacy and competencies – all at the click of a button.”

 Ms Mwasi, who is the founder and secretary-general of the Leather Apex Society of Kenya – an umbrella organisation that covers Kenya’s leather associations across the value chains – says technology will go a long way in enhancing the leather industry’s profitability while tapping into its great potential.

Technology, she adds, is vital especially in addressing fragmentation through enhanced cooperation, networking and joint presentation of industry positions.

“It is also an effective tool with which to facilitate capacity building,” she notes.

Furthermore, Ms Mwasi told Afcacia that the platform will promote cooperation between leather associations through establishment of strategic partnerships and integration as well as sharing of best practices.

 “Technology can also help stakeholders get information on business opportunities in the industry, relevant government policies, and strategies for growing the industry,” Ms Mwasi says, adding that this will in the long term cut costs and increase efficiency.

Last year the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) adopted new standards for footwear and other leather products as it sought to shut the door on counterfeits. The new rules, which govern both imports and local products, comprised a code of practice that guides the tanning and grading of leather, introduction of particular specified soles and upper material for children, men and women, with a total ban on use of heavy metals and harmful chemical substances in making children shoes.

Kebs managing director Bernard Njiraini said the new measures would ensure quality of products sold in Kenya and the region.

He noted that the standards “will ensure the quality, fitness for use and safety of the footwear products to the users.”

The new measures have been a boon to leather firms who have complained about tough and sometimes unfair competition from fake imported footwear.

According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2019, the price of semi-processed (wet blue) leather fell 8.87 percent to Sh191 a kilogramme, cutting exporters’ earnings to Sh4.42 billion from Sh5 billion in 2017.

This provided high-quality leather to local article manufacturers, leading to a 4.1 percent rise in finished product exports against a 7.1 percent reduction reported in 2017.