Meet Ethiopia’s Elelan Leather. A leather products manufacturing business located in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. One of their greatest achievements so far has been creating more than 25 jobs for women within their manufacturing workshop. We spoke to the Deputy General Manager, Tolera who shared in-depth about their journey and future plans as a company.
Background & History of Elelan leather
Founded in 2015 by two entrepreneurs, Elelan leather has been producing high quality leather products in Ethiopia, with plans to expand into international markets. Their products and accessories range from leather bags in the form of duffle, laptop, travel, and other styles for men and women, jackets, wallets, belts and shoes. Having financed the business from their personal savings at the beginning, Elelan has an expansion plan that will push them to explore new funding opportunities.
The idea for Elelan leather was born when the founders, who have a passion for fashion and sustainable businesses realised that they couldn’t find unique and high quality leather products in Ethiopia, so they created their own with all raw materials locally sourced. They believe that there is a gap in good quality, genuine and affordable leather products since premium priced products that are imported from Europe are either not affordable or of lower quality. Elelan leather is planning to close this gap.
Their target customers are mainly tourists and working middle class individuals. To attract their target customers, they have set up shops in downtown Addis Ababa. Their detail in design, product customisation and the quality of their products is a unique selling point that keeps the customers coming. Their main marketing channel is through social media but since this is not enough to draw the target market, they have two retail shops where customers can have a tangible experience before buying a product.
They also have participated in local and international trade fairs and expos, and recently in 2018 they went to Milan, Italy to showcase their products on Mipel, a world renowned trade fair held every year. Although such occasions are expensive, they believe the benefit comes in the form of exposing ones brand and gaining new export customers. Elelan leather also has a website and although it isn’t e-commerce enabled, customers can view their leather products and engage in a conversation through their chat option.
Unique selling point for Elelan Leather
The unique selling point for the company is their customer relations and assistance which is a rare find in many businesses in Addis. For instance, if someone buys a bag, there is a lifetime guarantee for repairs. All products are customisable so that customers receive their desired product. And to keep up with the ever-changing global trends, they are constantly coming up with new design ideas.
Proud Moments and Impact on Women
Their business started from what we popularly refer to as “small beginnings.” With just 2 employees at the onset and minimal manufacturing capacity, they have now grown to employ 25 women- 18 of which are full time. The founders ensure that their employees are paid above average and through this they can impact the lives of their employees’ families.
They are also quite proud of their fast-paced expansion which has given them the ability to establish two physical shops as well as recognition in the international market.
Challenges and Advice
The bureaucratic systems in the Ethiopian ecosystem is quite a challenge for Elelan leather. Tolera added that they have also experienced challenges in sourcing quality accessories for their products. Access to online markets in Ethiopia can be quite the uphill battle which means that every time they want to expand they must open another physical location which is quite expensive.
A separate challenge is the skills gap of new employees which they are solving through detail extensive and time intensive training sessions. Tolera’s key piece of advice is based on how difficult the entrepreneurship journey can be at times but with persistence, one can break through any obstacle and succeed.
GrowthAfrica Acceleration Programme
Inspired by their goal to expand their company and prepare for investment, Tolera and his co-founder Nahil applied to the GrowthAfrica Acceleration Programme which offers an enabling environment for them to meet their goals.
“So far, we have been encouraged to look deeply with the business. Starting from the boot camp that focused on the company’s vision, mission and values. We have successfully managed to fully communicate to the team where we are heading as a business and how we shall achieve it. We have now internalized our vision and incorporated in our day to day basis.” Tolera said.
The Future of Elelan Leather
In three years, Elelan Leather would like to expand into a large-scale manufacturing plant with the focus on the export market.