It is a little over twenty five years since I first went to Nigeria to buy sheepskins for Pittards. These were hairsheep; not as good and consistent for Pittards premium gloving but with careful management they were a big part of the Pittards input in those days. The trip was memorable in a number of ways.
It did not start too well as BA managed to misplace my luggage so meetings with suppliers, tanners and banks were done in rather appalling clothing that was all to be found late at night in Kano. Further interest was added for me as in a previous employment when a Director of the Booth Group, for whom I managed Turney Brothers, I discovered that Booths had been a joint owner and founder of Great Northern Tannery when it was set up in about 1961 – so says the Nigerian documentation but I thought it was 20 years earlier. I think the other partner was Colomer. Certainly my secretary at Turneys in Nottingham, Becky Lieber, who I shared with Paddy O’Flynn of Booth Overseas, was still buying machine parts and chemicals to ship to them.
Kano then was an amazing place. It has this two tier leather industry with a big historic craft tanning sector processing sheep, goat and some reptiles using a vegetable tanning process including a bran drenching. Alongside are a number of fully industrial plants which offer the opportunity to develop a lot of employment in light industry by moving onto the manufacture of footwear and other leather products. After many years of going nowhere Ethiopia is now showing the way forward and it is good to see my old company Pittards at the forefront. They did well out of Ethiopia for many decades and it is good to see something being given back, and working to mutual advantage. As well as giving employment light industry helps to reduce corruption which is all too easy when raw materials such as oil or diamonds are exported. Current issues in the Tanzanian leather industry look to be a typical example where tanners cannot get access to raw and where dealers keep exporting raw by using part of their profits to bribe government officials.
Another thing that surprised me on my first visit was to learn that this was in part an Islamic society and some of the traders we met were taking us around in Mercedes with pink curtains, to huge houses with enormous satellite dishes from which they could receive Saudi TV. Nevertheless Kano was quite a forward city and it seems that attempts to enforce Sharia law have not gone down well. So often the leather industry finds itself having to function in and around difficult political situations and terrorism. Let us hope that the leather industry can play a small part in helping Kano into the future.
Corium Club Dinner
This year’s Corium Club Dinner will be held at the Thai Emerald Restaurant in Northampton on Friday 9th March. Check out the Facebook page for the ICLT for details.