Table of Contents

1. Overview

The leather industry has been around for thousands of years – ever since mankind began hunting animals.

Hides and skins are a by-product of the meat industry, so supply does not react to demand for leather, but for meat. Leather is used in the automotive, footwear, furniture, clothing, leather goods and exotic leathers (e.g. ostrich) sectors.

Leather makes a contribution to the quality of everyday life: virtually everyone wears or uses one or more leather products on a regular basis.

The following are the main categories of skins or hides according to species.

  • Bovine (cattle) hides dominate the supply of leather in South Africa. They are mainly by-product of meat production supplied by feedlots.
  • Sheep skin is produced with or without wool mainly for export market.
  • South Africa does not have significant supply of pig skin as this tends to be part of the meat.
  • The supply of goat and kid skins is low as the majority of goats are slaughtered outside the abattoirs.
  • Unlike bovine, ostrich is bred primarily for its skin; and ostrich meat becomes a by-product. Ostrich leather is unique with its feather quill pattern. This gives it extra strength and durability which is 7 times stronger than bovine (cattle) hide. Ostrich leather is used to produce handbags, wallets, shoes, clothing etc.
  • Many wild animals including elephants and buffalo are main sources of leather.
  • Crocodiles and snakes are bred for their skins.
Sources: A Profile of the South African hides, skins and leather market value chain 2015, available at; The introduction to leather at 


2. International business environment

Visit, website of the International Council of Tanners. The Leather industry covers raw hides and skins, part processed leather, finished leather, leather components and leather products widely imported and exported, and is very much an international industry. The ICT website uses Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistics to show that it is bigger than the meat industry

Hide improvement schemes

Defects affecting hide and skin quality:

  • Pre-slaughter - branding, barbed wire, tick, mite, veins (feeding deficiency), fine scratches caused by thorns, etc.
  • Abattoir damage - Flay cuts, drag marks, stretch marks from hide pulling equipment, bruising, delay in curing (putrefication/rotting).

The only way hide improvement schemes have been shown to work is when the farmer can see the benefit of looking after his animals to result in a higher quality, less marked hide or skin. This relies on a trace-back system from end processor (tannery) all the way back through the abattoir to the original farmer, with him receiving some sort of bonus for delivering an animal with a good quality hide. Such schemes are rare – working best in sophisticated economies such as parts of Europe and Australia.

Source: International Council of Tanners website – 

South Africa imports and exports

The South African government is looking to ban the export of of raw and wet salted hides, and to place an export tax of 20% on wet blue grain and drop splits, and full substance wet blue hides - see heading 4.

The major market for South African exports is Asia, followed by Europe. Hides and skins are imported from Brazil, India and Argentina. The latest annual A Profile of the South African hides, skins and leather market value chain looks at exports and imports. This includes tariffs and standards which have to be satisfied to access various markets like the EU, China and the USA. (Developing nations produce leather for export under license from retailers/buyers in developed countries, according to what these buyers want.)

Sources: A Profile of the South African hides, skins and leather market value chain 2015, available at