Are Ethiopian Shoemakers Competing With China To Manufacture For US Markets?

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Bethlehem Tilahun, founder and owner of Ethiopian shoe brand SoleRebels, is coordinating efforts by local leather and footwear manufacturers to launch a massive marketing campaign promoting the industry in the global market.

Having received positive feedback from major global brands in the footwear industry, local shoemakers are strengthening business relationships with the goal of manufacturing in Ethiopia.

Made by Ethiopia, a local group of 10 leather and footwear manufacturers, have joined forces to supply footwear products mainly destined for the U.S.

It’s part of a pioneering effort to persuade global buyers that Ethiopia is an alternative sourcing market compared to Bangladesh and Vietnam—markets many international brands rely on to source products, according to Ethiopian Reporter.

From Ethiopian Reporter. Story by By Birhanu Fikade.

Made by Ethiopia, a local firm formed by a group of leather and footwear manufacturers, is launching a massive marketing campaign with government support to promote the industry in the global market, according to Wondu Legesse, director general of the Leather Industry Development Institute.

About 10 manufacturers have joined hands to supply footwear products mainly destined for the US. To that effect, memos of understanding were signed recently with U.S. brands.

Bethlehem Tilahun, founder and owner of SoleRebels, is pioneering the effort to leverage and convince global buyers that Ethiopia is the best alternative sourcing market compared to Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Made by Ethiopia is ushering the Ethiopia footwear industry into the global market by focusing on promotional activities to help the country become one of the major sourcing nations in the footwear and leather market, Tilahun told The Reporter.

So far, Aldo, Wolverine, Caleres, Under Armor, Li&Fung, Sears, RLF, RG Barry, Zara, and Global Brands Group have shown an interest to source from Ethiopia, Tilahun said.

Most of these brands are represented by the American Apparel and Footwear Association, which has 1,000 members, Bethlehem said. Member companies collectively created 4 million jobs in the U.S. and contribute $361 billion in annual retail sales, according to the AAFA website.

Following the first visit to Ethiopia by 10 major brands a few weeks ago, Tilahun and her colleagues have sent samples of the products they plan to manufacture. Some orders have been already placed, Tilahun said. The Ethiopian team is set to visit  Aldo Group headquarters in Montreal, Canada, in the first week of February.

The momentum of Ethiopia’s shoe-making industry is noticeable in the U.S., where end users have shown an interest in wearing shoes made in Ethiopia, according to a recent CNN report —  87 percent of footwear products imported to the U.S. are from China.

To sustain the demand for Ethiopian footwear, apparel and leather goods, Tilahun and her colleagues are in a hurry to finalize an industrial park project in Addis Ababa. Already a dozen local manufacturers have shown interest to lease space in the park. Sources of financing could include World Bank’s machinery leasing scheme.

Ethiopian leather and footwear export figures in the first half of this fiscal year were way below target. The target for the half year was set at $113 million US but came in at $54.8 million — 47 percent of the target. Finished leather fetched $31.7 million, footwear $19.2 million, gloves $2.4 million and leather apparel and accessories earned $1.6 million.

Wondu said he’s confident that in two years’ time the hurdles in the leather and footwear sub sector will be resolved. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of capacity, Tilahun said. Local demand for footwear and leather products is estimated to be some 15 million pairs per year. Capacity is half of that amount.

Read more at Ethiopian Reporter.