Leather value chain brings hope to women Mrs Violet Mhute showcasing her leather products at this year’s Global Expo Botswana

Sikhulekelani Moyo Bulawayo Bureau

Women are making strides in the leather industry, which has seen them winning accolades and generating livelihoods, which are sustaining their families.

Mrs Violet Mhute of Soko Leather Craft based in Bulawayo is one of these women who have excelled in the value chain through resilience, consultations and hard work.

As a woman in the leather value chain, Mrs Mhute said she felt great and was excited about being in the sector.

Mrs Mhute is a fashion designer who is passionate about designing leather products.

She said she enjoys her work as it has sustained her family and has taken her children to school and university.

In 2020, the Government approved the new Zimbabwe Leather Sector Strategy 2021-2030 that is anchored on increased investments, maximising on value addition and beneficiation to promote export-led industrialisation.

The leather sector is regarded as a low-hanging fruit for the Zimbabwean economy given the country’s comparative advantages in livestock and crop production, which provide key raw materials.

The strategy, which is a successor to the Leather Sector Strategy (2012-2017), seeks to increase the overall competitiveness of the leather value chain in Zimbabwe and enhance access to both local and export markets for the finished products.

This has propelled women like Mrs Mhute to play their part in the leather value chain.

Mrs Mhute said the Government has been supportive through legal frameworks which have seen the local leather sector thrive.

“Since the coming of the Zimbabwe Leather Sector Strategy 2021-2030, I see policies which favour women have been implemented, the leather value chain is now being taught in colleges and universities and more women are being employed in this sector,” she said.

“For example, Prestige leather has employed a female manager, Engineer Tatenda from National University of Science and Technology (Nust). I have employed 75 percent more women than men.

“I think what the Government must do now is introduce leather at an early stage, say at primary school level like what it has done on clothing so that children develop interest at a young age and. Government should also raise awareness and support this value chain since it is capital intensive.”

Countries in the SADC region and the rest of the continent have been pushing for women participation in politics and leadership.

Zimbabwe is no exception as the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa continues to push for the empowerment of women at all levels.

Women are encouraged to form companies with the capacity to compete for tenders in the ongoing economic and infrastructural development efforts being championed by the Second Republic.

Another woman in the leather value chain, Ms Trauma Chiwira of Malaila Enterprises Private Limited under the Umguza cluster said she is enjoying the challenge even though there are some operations along the value chain where she needs men.

Eventually, she said, she will be able to do the operations as she is still learning the techniques.

“It was difficult when I started because people wouldn’t buy my products as they thought a shoe made by a woman isn’t of good quality but now some of my sales are from referrals.

“It has also been a bit difficult because of the competition with imports and the second-hand goods coming into the country. However, I have seen a slight change as some customers have realised that our products are more durable than what they are buying from our competitors,” she said.

“As women in the sector, we are managing in terms of being financially independent. We are working towards improving our products and production by coming together to assist each other and also attending training to help improve the work we do. Continual training has helped us realise where we lack and this has boosted our confidence to compete and hopefully, we will be able to compete globally.”

Ms Chiwira said most women feel they cannot join the leather value chain as it is a male dominated sector.

She said there is a need for more creativity from the ladies as they are the ones who love to see new designs and fashion coming in.

“We need to speak out through the products we make to show we are capable and competitive. We recently had a woman in the leather sector win an award for best international exhibitor at the global expo in Gaborone, Botswana,” she said.

“I think the Government needs to raise more awareness among women so that they know they are capable of working in male dominated spaces. So far, the support they have been giving women is good. We do need more of their support however.”

Ms Otilia Ndlovu of Treadsoftly Leather Products under the Bulawayo Leather Cluster said she is motivated by the need to design something unique for women.

She started by designing ladies’ handbags and later on developed other products including ladies’ sandals and shoes.

“I joined the leather value chain because as a woman I knew that I could develop products that are beautiful and unique for ladies because I understand their needs,” said Ms Ndlovu.

“I wanted to outdo men as I know exactly what ladies want.”

Ms Ndlovu said women faced challenges such as some men being jealous of them and delaying them in whatever they want to do.

She commended the Second Republic for supporting women, highlighting that they received machines from the Government which have improved their productivity.

“It’s now taking us a single day to produce five pairs of shoes unlike in the past when it would take us three days to produce a single pair of shoes,” she said.

“Also, women are now embracing the leather sector as witnessed by the number of women who are in our cluster. We have also created a group of women in the leather sector as we are hoping to benefit from Government initiatives in the sector.”

Globally, women entrepreneurship is one of the fastest-growing narratives, with rising contribution towards innovation, employment and wealth creation.

The Government’s National Development Strategy 1 (2021-2025) prioritises gender mainstreaming through visible initiatives that confer equal opportunities to women in line with regional and international ideals.

The Zimbabwe Leather Development Council has been working with different partners, which has also seen a lot of women going through skills capacitation for women and people with disabilities on leather value chains, which include production of different products.

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