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 www.daff.gov.za; The introduction to leather at www.leathercouncil.org. 

 

2. International business environment

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 www.daff.gov.za.