The business of leather

The business of leather

MASERU – An electrical engineering graduate and a quantity surveyor have found a passion in an industry far removed from the stuff they spent years learning at college.
Leather is their business now.
Although Lebeoana Matsimane, an electrical engineer, and his business partner, Masupha Moshoeshoe, a quantity surveyor, are still learning the ropes, the duo has already done enough to attract the attention of big players.

“Leather is a part of our everyday life,” says Matsimane.
It was a partnership that has blossomed after realising their love for business. The two were determined to learn a trade far divorced from their professional training.
Matsimane was however not new to business. He was already running a small company dealing with electricity.
In 2013, Matsimane joined his wife in Ethiopia. He hoped to start a business in Ethiopia.

“I identified three industries that I could venture in, coffee, textile and the leather industry,” Matsimane says.
Lack of capital killed those aspirations.
In Ethiopia, foreigners are expected to have a lot of liquid cash in their bank accounts if they want to start businesses, according to the country’s investment regulations.
He settled for the leather industry, but back at home.

“Textile was capital intensive and coffee is not an established sector here. We are still warming up to it as part of culture,” he says.
“Everyone has a leather item, so I settled for it,” says the businessman.
He later roped in an Ethiopian leather works expert who later quit before they could even start.
The loss of a crucial technical member of the team did not stop the duo, who proceeded to register their company last year and named it Jalad Africa.
In March this year, operations started with the production of leather items mainly bags for both genders.
“We did not anticipate the struggle that we would soon face. We raised funds through personal contributions, bought machinery and started looking for suitable workers,” says Matsimane.
He says they approached Limkokwing University of Creative Technology for students they could work with.
“We got someone but unfortunately he was adept with textiles and not leather,” says Matsimane.

They went to Leloaleng Technical School in search of a skilled leather expert but to their disappointment, they found that the Leloaleng students could not use machines.
“Those from Leloaleng were familiar with leather but they did not know how to stitch it with machines, they hand stitched,” he says, adding this forced them to learn the craft.
“We thought we would hit the ground running after a month but it took about two to three months.”
Tools like Youtube came in handy for self-learning tutorials.

Although Jalad Africa has been in operations for less than three months, its presence is already being felt in the industry.
“We are not into crafts, we are more interested in the fashion side of this industry and we want to supply big stores like Woolworths and export our products to the American and European markets,” says Matsimane.

Jalad Africa has been invited by the Namibian Ministry of Trade and Industry to showcase their products at the 3rd annual SADC industrialization week that started on the 30th July and ended yesterday.

This event is aimed at fostering new opportunities for intramural-Africa trade and investment in developing cross border value chains in the region.
Last month, through the assistance of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), Matsimane and Moshoeshoe attended Source Africa. It is the premier sourcing event on the African continent bringing together suppliers, manufacturers, service providers and buyers all under one roof.

The Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme (LEAP) has also came to their aid by assisting the firm’s designer attend a training programme on leather in Ethiopia.
The Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO) assisted the company with working space and cut down rental fees.
A fairly new player in the industry, the company now employs six people.

Although their growth is rapid, it is not what was initially anticipated.
“We thought by now we would be far ahead from where we are now but I have learned that as an entrepreneur, you can never plan for everything beforehand. Some obstacles are only seen when in operation,” says Matsimane.

Matsimane says the company has taken advantage of Lesotho’s High Commissions abroad to display its products.
“We have sent samples to our High Commission in Ireland and already the response has been good.”

“Foreigners have been very supportive and appreciative of our work. Social media has played a huge role in attracting potential buyers from outside the country,” he says.
On the other hand, there are locals who doubt that the young firm can handle huge orders.
“We are building a brand that will create more jobs, establish this industry and help other Basotho so that we can own it as locals,” Matsimane says.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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