The industrial project promotes exports from Ethiopia centred on adding value to local hide and skin raw materials through leather and finished leather products manufacture and by improving the business and technical skills of the companies engaged in the project.

Ethiopian Highland Leather (EHL) has been created following a technical co-operation project that began in 2017 between Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade, the Ethiopian Leather Development Institute (LIDI), the Ethiopian Leather Industry Association (ELIA) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Known as the Champion Product Approach (CPA), the project is aimed at improving the image of Ethiopia through its exports, leather in this case, as well as link the products to Ethiopia’s rich culture, landscape and history that dates back millions of years and is believed to be the birthplace of human beings. The CPA set long-term goals to provide a better image of its “champion products” which will be displayed at the upcoming Première Classe show in Paris this coming September.

Despite Ethiopia’s improving GDP, its secondary industries have suffered from low growth, especially in manufacturing. In addition, the vulnerable domestic private sector has been recognised as an obstacle to foreign and domestic investments. To overcome these problems and achieve further industrial development, the Ethiopian government has expressed an interest in Asia’s industrial development experience and has exchanged dialogue with JICA on strategies since 2009. The CPA approach is to discover champion products that embody the uniqueness of Ethiopian culture and history which are made to high-quality standards that are promoted to overseas premium markets. As a result of this approach the EHL brand and concept was created.

Japanese experts supporting local enterprises

During the project expert teams from Japan, including from leather chemical makers TFL, visited seven Ethiopian partners to support various activities such as marketing, design quality and production line management, and more. One of the experienced experts is from a well-known Japanese designer brand and another that has experience in presenting footwear collections in leading fashion centres such as Paris. The Japanese experts demonstrated to the Ethiopian partners how they should display and market their leather products during the fair and allow visitors at the show to establish business opportunities in Ethiopia through the project.

An office was established in the LIDI headquarters, where the project is coordinated on the ground.

The nine experts from Japan have held workshops and training sessions inside the companies and focussed on key elements such as quality control, production line management, hand crafting and mechanical techniques to produce high quality and consistent articles made from locally sourced finished leather. ELIA reports that since the specialists from Japan have been working with the local companies they have been able to achieve better results in terms of improved quality of finished leather and leather products. As a result of the ongoing project, ELIA has seen improvements in the way the products are made and marketed with the international market in mind.

In the technical transfer from the Japanese experts, the five Ethiopian manufacturers have developed more than 10 samples each which has a suitable design and function made from Ethiopian sheepskin leather. Additionally, two local tanners have developed vegetable tanned sheepskins and new finishing techniques. These leathers will be displayed at Première Classe.   

Back story of Highland Leather from Ethiopia

Following the training programmes at the seven Ethiopian partners chosen for the project, a marketing presentation was created showing the assets from each company and telling a back story of how the product was made and where it came from. Ethiopia is globally known for producing hairsheep and goatskins that are highly suitable for gloving and garment leather. The animals live across the vast Ethiopian plateaus, often at altitudes over 3,000 metres. The local producers make leather that is light, thin, soft and yet strong and durable. The project focussed on the unique physical characteristics of the local raw materials centred on the 1,860 pores/cm2, which create a soft, thin, smooth yet strong grain.

Moving on from the finished leather, the EHL project focusses on the growing finished leather product manufacturing base in Ethiopia where a range of garments, footwear and leather goods have been created using local leather. The items to be displayed in Paris include leather jackets, handbags, footwear, wallets and purses, and leather goods for both men and women.

In terms of marketing, the project concentrated on how it was produced from the world’s finest quality sheep leather, “Proudly Made in the Highlands of Ethiopia.”