The leather industry has been around for thousands of years – ever since humankind 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.
International business environment
The USA is by far the largest seller of bovine hides and skin globally, having exported19 million units in 2019 followed by Germany, France and Italy at 133553 units, 126785 units and 122233 units, respectively (NAMC, 2020).
- Visit www.leathercouncil.org, website of the International Council of Tanners.
- Find international news and commentary at https://leatherbiz.com.
- “Serving the global leather & fashion industries”, www.aplf.com. Its Leather Pipeline is an “exclusive fortnightly market intelligence report”
South Africa imports and exports
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). Find the document at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
Local business environment
Find statistics on hides and skins at www.levyadmin.co.za.
- The demand for hides by the automotive sector out-strips the number of cattle slaughtered locally.
- Over 60-70% of South African hides are regarded as suitable for automotive leather.
- The increase in feedlots over the years has led to better quality hides (animals spend less time in the veld). These can be rated higher than other sub-Saharan African and most Asian hides, but they remain inferior to most hides from Australia, Argentina, the US and Europe.
The value chain is divided into five stages:
- skin & hide supply (farmers, feedlots and abattoirs)
- semi-processed leather
- finished leather
- finished products
- the market
For a more detailed consideration, consult the publication A Profile of the South African hides, skins and leather market value chain (see “Websites and publications” heading).
Hides: an opportunity for commercialisation?
Skins and hides are a rich source of raw material in South Africa’s leather value chain. Most abattoirs have partnerships with skins and hide traders who export raw skins and hides as well as low value-added semi-finished leather products.
At the same time, hides from communal cattle farmers are thought to be going to waste or attracting only very low price in informal markets. These hides are a communal resource whose value would be greatly enhanced if they could be processed into tanned leather and supplied for further value addition in the labour-intensive footwear, furniture and automotive leather value chains.
The skins & hides available in the informal sector could also create business opportunities for communal entrepreneurs to act as emerging hide merchants; and the sector could be substantially upgraded by training informal slaughter operators, emerging farmers and herders to prepare hides, collect and sell them to local tanneries. A main impact will be better slaughtering practices by communal farmers, generating better quality hides which fetch higher market prices.
Source: the 2015/16 – 2017/18 and 2016/17 - 2018/19 IPAP documents, both available at www.thedti.gov.za.
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.
National strategy and government contact
Government’s Industrial Policy Action Plans (IPAPs) included the Clothing, Textiles, Leather and Footwear sector. The Competitiveness Improvement Grant (CIP) supported a number of national and sub-national clusters which promoted world class manufacturing processes and principles. Two programmes were:
- The National Footwear Leather Cluster (NFLC), a facility established by the then Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), was part of the intervention by government to create sustainable jobs and reduce the trade deficit.
- The Exotic Leather Cluster (ELC). This involved crocodile and ostrich leather beneficiation. It was a collaboration between the Department of Trade & Industry and the University of Pretoria (see “Training & research” heading). Watch the video on YouTube called “Exotic Leather Cluster SA”.
The IPAP intervention in the leather and footwear sub-sector registered positive results: Between 2010 and 2016, exports of leather and footwear grew by 167%, from R 1.98 billion to R5.29 billion, with a peak employment figure of 21,190 in the sector, clawing back jobs to a level last seen in 2007 (the dti, 2018). Read more about these and other developments in the IPAP 2018/19-2020/21, available at www.thedti.gov.za.
Based on National Treasury’s “Draft Guidelines on Export Taxes”, the then dti is pursuing a ban on “on the exports of ‘raw hides’ and export duties on the semi-finished ‘wet blue’ (full substance, grain split and drop slit) aimed at effective diversion of the leather raw and semi-finished resources for downstream value addition (African Leather, Vol12, No 5, May; IPAP 2017/18-2019/20).
The revised Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) and Automotive Investment Scheme (AIS) are incentives to the automotive sector. This supports the demand for leather.
The Cape Clothing and Textile Cluster (CCTC) is a not-for-profit initiative jointly established by government and industry to boost the competitiveness of the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) manufacturing industry in the Western Cape. See https://capeclothingcluster.org.za.
A previous intervention was the Communal Hides Commercialisation Pilot Project (IPAP 2015/16 – 2017/18).
- The Skin, Hide and Leather Council (SHALC) is the legal owner of the Genuine Leather Mark, applied by manufacturers and retailers in South Africa to distinguish genuine leathers from inferior imitations. Contact SHALC by emailing Ernest Heunis at ernest [at] leatherite.co.za.
- The South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC) does independent hides and skins audits on behalf of DALRRD for export purposes at abattoirs, intermediate stores and harbours. Visit www.samic.co.za.
- Both SHALC and SAMIC are affiliates of the Red Meat Industry Forum (see www.redmeatsa.co.za).
- SA Footwear and Leather Export Council (SAFLEC) Tel: 031 266 1472/3 www.saflec.co.za SAFLEC represents exporters of footwear and leather products.
- SA Footwear and Leather Industries Association Tel: 0800 723 542 www.saflia.co.za
- National Ostrich Processors Association (NOPSA) Tel: 044 272 3336 www.nopsa.com
- Exotic Leather SA Tel: 083 680 0425 http://elsa.org.za
- National Union of Leather and Allied Workers (NULAW) Tel: 031 206 0105
- Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) Tel: 031 301 1351 / 021 447 4570 www.sactwu.org.za
Training and Research
- Cedara runs a “Skins & Hides Management (value adding) on request”. See www.kzndard.gov.za/short-courses or write to megan.naidoo [at] kzndard.gov.za.
- Fibre Processing & Manufacturing (FP&M) SETA Tel: 011 403 1700 www.fpmseta.org.za
- International School of Tanning Technology (ISTT) Tel: 046 622 7310 www.tanschool.co.za
- University of Pretoria (UP) www.up.ac.za/exotic-leather-research-centre Crocodile and ostrich leather beneficiation
- Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Tel: 016 930 5006 Prof Michael Pillay mpillay [at] vut.ac.za www.vut.ac.za/footwear The dti IPAP Leather & Footwear Cluster is based here (see heading 4).
- African Game Tannery Tel: 082 574 9537 www.wildleather.co.za
- African Hide Trading Tel: 041 405 7000 www.aht.co.za
- African Leather and Skin Tel: 021 863 1936 www.africanleather.co.za
- AfriTan Tanner Tel: 072 186 1795 www.ngunihides.com and www.afritan.com
- Allied Trim Components Tel: 031 914 3113 / 012 541 1308 www.alliedtrimsa.co.za
- Apeco Tel: 031 705 1668 www.apeco.co.za
- Bader South Africa Tel: 012 797 7100 http://bader-leather.com/en/company/location/south-africa
- Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Tel: 014 556 7000 www.bbkta.net
- Camexo SA t/a Exotan Tel: 041 396 9100 www.camexo.co.za
- Cape Produce Company Tel: 041 484 4591 http://capeproduce.co.za
- Dassiesfontein Tel: 028 214 1475 www.dassies.co.za/leather.php
- EAC Tannery Tel: 082 316 3134 www.midlandgroup.co.za
- Feltex Automotive Leather Tel: 031 460 4200 www.feltex.co.za
- Gametan Tel: 013 751 3075 www.gametan.co.za
- Gringo Leathers Tel: 031 701 2037
- Hannitan Leathers Tel: 011 817 2150 www.hannitanleather.com
- Hidskin Processors Tel: 011 613 6271
- Horne Tanning and Taxidermy Tel: 046 622 8174
- KDK Leatherworks Tel: 012 664 5842 www.kdkleatherworks.co.za
- Klein Karoo International Leather Tel: 044 203 5250 www.kleinkarooleather.co.za
- Kwiktan Tel: 076 021 4673 www.kwiktan.com
- Le Croc Tel: 012 277 1222 www.lecroc.co.za
- Leather from Hart Tel: 033 398 5700 www.leatherfromhart.com
- Leather Link Tel: 021 552 4398 www.leatherlink.co.za
- Leatherite Tel: 012 804 3520 www.leatherite.co.za
- Mark of Leather Tel: 083 484 5461 http://markoflegend.co.za
- Midlands Tannery Tel: 016 971 4613 www.midlandleather.co.za
- Mossop-Western Leathers Tel: 021 864 9300 www.mossops.co.za
- My Makiti Leather Products www.my-makiti.co.za/
- Oasis Tanning Company Tel: 011 416 2270 www.oasistanning.co.za
- Ostriland Import Export Tel: 022 921 2177
- Ostrimark SA Tel: 044 203 3709 www.ostrimark.co.za
- Pelts Products Tel: 041 461 1515
- Prince Albert Tannery Tel: 023 541 1411
- Rein Tanning Tel: 044 697 7031
- Richard Kane Hides & Skins Tel: 021 535 1122 www.richardkane.com
- SA Dorper Tel: 011 613 6271 www.sadorper.biz
- Seton SA Tel: 011 360 7500
- Skhumba Skins of Africa Tel: 081 270 0442 www.skhumbaskins.co.za
- Southern Cape Ostrich Tannery (SCOT) Tel: 044 606 4500 www.scot.co.za
- Sutherlands Tanneries Tel: 033 940 0500
- Woods Tanning Tel: 041 992 2179
For a list of SAFLEC companies (specifically footwear), visit www.saflec.co.za. The IPAP 2016/17- 2017/18 document, available at www.thedti.gov.za, lists the names of 26 leather and footwear factories which have opened since 2014/15. Several tanning machinery suppliers are listed under the “Links” option at www.tanschool.co.za.
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier on this page. The ISTT website www.tanschool.co.za, for example, is a must-read for anybody in the leather industry. Its menu options include a list of the chemicals used to make leather, provides a dictionary of terminology, lists leather magazines and provides a list of related websites. Links to international bodies, websites as well as details of UK and USA Tanning publications may be found.
- Find the guideline “Hides”, one of the many, on the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture website at www.kzndard.gov.za/resource-centre.
- Find the twice-monthly ABSA Livestock and Hide report at www.absa.co.za/business/sector-solutions/agribusiness/agri-smart-insights/
- Find the latest annual A Profile of the South African hides, skins and leather market value chain on the DALRRD Directorate Marketing web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za.
- Find details of the footwear and leather trade magazines at www.svmag.co.za.
- www.leathercouncil.org – the International Council of Tanners website, a “definitive” international website.
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