Stahl’s leading role in the Ethiopian leather industry

Ethiopia has great potential to conquer a leading position in the leather industry. Therefore Stahl opened an Application lab in Addis Abeba in 2013. To further strengthen international developments towards an environmentally friendly industry, Stahl cooperates with CSR Netherlands and local companies in Ethiopia. The African country is incredibly rich in raw materials, such as the best and softest hides in the world, and it is becoming more and more aware of this fact. By tanning their hides with Stahl EasyWhite Tan™, our chrome-free and more sustainable tanning system, they are able to offer the best of both worlds: high-quality leather that is tanned through a chrome-free process. This is particularly interesting to Western buyers. We talked with Frans Tilstra about this initiative. He is a research and communication specialist at CSR Netherlands, who recently visited Ethiopia.

"The tanneries in Ethiopia are open to new approaches," Tilstra says. "In the past, the leather industry in Ethiopia used to export crust leather, mainly to well-known fashion brands in Italy. Yet the government put a stop to that in order to encourage the local industry to produce high-quality end products themselves. Obviously, this would benefit the economy in Ethiopia. Especially since the hides are of outstanding quality - finer, thinner and softer in structure than those of any other suppliers in the world. Ethiopia definitely is an interesting market for the Dutch leather processing industry."

The reason for the fine quality of Ethiopian hides is geological. The country is located on fertile highlands at such an elevation that the animals aren’t bothered by swarms of insects. Usually those nasty creatures feed on flocks, resulting in hornet scars in the hides. Furthermore, the herds roam around freely, so there is no barbed wire to damage the hides. To make it even better, the breeds of sheep and goats that are adapted to the Ethiopian environment have a very thin skin.

With around 100 million animals, Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, and on a global scale the country comes in tenth place. Annually, 25 million sheep and 24 million goats account for 8.1 million sheep skins and 7.5 million goat skins respectively. In the past, all these fine hides were transported to the Italian fashion industry, but now the Ethiopians themselves are becoming aware of the potential.

"The Dutch leather industry sees the potential, too," Frans Tilstra says. "When I show Ethiopian leather to Dutch entrepreneurs, their message is plain and simple: let them produce high-quality leather that lives up to the European standards and we will be in business. In this respect, the Ethiopians enjoy a huge advantage if they tan their tan hides with Stahl EasyWhite Tan™. This way the tanning process is environmentally friendly, while producing high-quality leather at the same time.” The alternative, sustainable tanning system enables tanners to produce all types of metal-free leather to the standard leather product specifications and beyond. Obviously, this is perfect for the Ethiopian leather industry. They have outstanding hides and are able to deliver chrome-free leather, which is a product that's in short supply on the global market. It is the best of both worlds. A win-win situation for all parties involved.

Photocredit: Jan Bom
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