A record number of companies from around the globe are expected at the fifth African Leather Fair at the Millennium Hall, Addis Ababa from March 1-3, 2012.
United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, India, China, Germany and Sudan are just some of the countries the over 200 exhibitors will venture from.
Stakeholders of leather materials, those who play a role in its creation and those who sell the finished leather products will be at the event which is gaining such notoriety that it has become a fixture on leather fair calendars like Bologna (Italy), Las Vegas (US), Hong Kong, Istanbul (Turkey) and Shanghai (China).
Solomon Getu Board Chairman of ELIA says a lot has changed since the first leather fair in 2008.
At first Ethiopia supplied raw materials or semi finished leather products to countries like Italy where they would be manufactured and be re-exported, in some cases back to Ethiopia.
“Fully processed leather products create a high employment opportunity as well as a better market,” Solomon remarked.
Abdissa Adugna, Secretary General of the Ethiopian Leather Industries Association (ELIA) agrees with Solomon saying that previous fairs have helped shift the focus of the Ethiopian Leather Industry from semi-processed to finished leather products like shoes, gloves to jackets.
The numbers keep going up as well. Last year the fair drew 140 Ethiopian companies and 54 foreign companies from 30 countries as well as 11,000 visitors.
The leather fair will play a role in this transition by linking companies that produce components that create finished products like chemicals machines and accessories with those who produce finished leather products.
The Government has been working to help the transition with a directive that crust leather exporters had to transform to become finished leather exporters by December 10, 2011.
Solomon said most leather factories have already made the transition to this stage although some have still been facing challenges. For example some shoe producers have been struggling with the scarcity of leather components. Others are trying to increase the capacity of their factories.
The plan does appear to be having some effect already as there has been a 15 percent increase in revenue over the last seven months.
Even though Abdissa says there is room for improvement in order to get to the level of South Africa, which is known for ostrich of automotive leather products and some North African countries, the Association also says its leather goods are receiving receptive audiences in neighboring countries like the east African economic powerhouse of Kenya.
The Ethiopian Leather Industries Association (ELIA) currently has 47 companies as its members representing a cross section of producers and exporters of animal products from cows, goats, sheep and camels.
The association is also planning to participate in an exhibition and have its own pavilion in Hong Kong which runs from March 28-30, 2012.