We’re often asked where our leather is sourced from, and we are proud to say that almost all of it comes from Ethiopia and Kenya! We work hard to source as many of our materials as possible (from beads to rubber!) in the East African region with the aim of supporting the local economy and community. The tanneries we work with mostly use hides from the animals of small family farmers and growing local businesses.
Leather & Livestock in East Africa
One of the most noticeable differences between your average suburban Ugandan neighborhood and a typical American one is the presence of livestock. Though they don’t usually make it downtown, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs and cows regularly roam the streets of both rural and city neighborhoods. Matooke plantains peek over the fences of nearly every home, and fruit trees line the roadsides, branches laden with mangos, avocados, and jackfruit. People don’t live with such an unnatural separation between themselves and the sources of their food, and both livestock and plants play more prevalent roles in everyday life.
In Ethiopia, many of the farmers live in small homes in the countryside that have one covered part for sleeping humans and one covered part for the sleeping animals.
In Uganda, cows, goats, and chickens are commonly associated with wedding ceremonies and as gifts for special occasions. Eating meat is often reserved for holidays and celebrations, rather than just “lunch.” Feathers and ankole cattle horns feature heavily in traditional crafts, costumes, and decor. It is also from this culture and set of traditions that we get our leather.
Our Leather Partners
Our tannery in Kenya provides the leather for our sandals, accents and accent tote bags. It is clean and modern with well-marked exits and safety equipment for the employees. There, the hides are cleaned, processed, and made into high-quality durable leather. It provides jobs in the local community and creates additional income for farmers in a part of the world who can sell the hides of their cows as well as the meat.
In Ethiopia, we work with a tannery partner who is intentionally working towards and investing in environmentally friendly processing techniques. We pay a premium for this leather, but are happy to support such a progressive tannery. These leathers are used in our totes, clutches, loafers and booties, among other things.
Many people ask us why we choose to use real leather instead of vegan alternatives, especially as an ethical fashion brand. Here are a few reasons:
- Vegan alternatives aren’t widely available in east Africa at the moment, and would have to be imported. This removes money from the local economy and creates environmental concerns of its own with shipping and CO2 emissions.
- The vinyl that is available locally is poor quality and is made of materials that take hundreds (or even thousands) of years to biodegrade, whereas leather usually biodegrades in less than 40.
- Leather provides jobs in the tanneries and creates a market for the hides leftover after animals are sold for meat. This means more income for farmers.
- Leather itself, when properly taken care of, can create goods which last decades.
- Cattle and sheep farming are huge sources of livelihood for small farmers in the regions we work in.
There are ethical and environmental issues associated with the manufacturing of leather, to be sure, but as we grow we have more influence over the quality and process. And the tanneries themselves will continue to grow and improve as they are able.
There isn’t always an easy answer or perfect solution to every question, but as we seek to bring more income and opportunity to this region of the world, we’re doing our best to chose the solutions most beneficial to people in the places we work.
From East Africa to You
Once these beautiful leather goods make their way to you, it’s important to take care of them to ensure they last for years to come! We’ve put together a Leather Care guide on how to clean and care for your Sseko leather goods. Hope you find it helpful!