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WE GET AN INSIGHT INTO THE LAGOS LEATHER FAIR FROM ITS CONVENER, MS. FEMI OLAYEBI

With the Lagos Leather Fair happening tomorrow, we were able to catch up with the brain behind the fair, Ms Femi Olayebi, the Founder and Creative Director of FemiHandbags. She gives us an insight into the birth of the fair and what to expect this edition.

  • How would you describe the Lagos Leather Fair?
    The Lagos Leather Fair is a platform designed for the publicity and exposure of the Nigerian leather industry through an exhibition of its diverse range of leather designers. The leather industry has so much potential — a 2019 report has revealed that Nigeria’s leather industry is projected to generate up to $1 billion by 2025.
  • What influenced your decision to begin the Lagos Leather Fair?
    The decision was influenced by a need to address the challenges faced in the leather industry, especially as it related to sourcing for raw materials, hardware and accessories. There is often a limited availability of raw materials, including leather. Though they are not completely unavailable, they are not available in the quantities we require. This is why many of us often have to leave the shores of Nigeria to source for our materials in sustainable quantities. This is because, where leather is concerned for example, our local tanneries export most of their tanned leather as they get more value for money from shipping their semi-processed hides and skins abroad, than they would selling in country, for the simple reason that there are not enough of us to purchase their minimum quantity orders.
  • Would you say you have achieved your aim over the years?
    I wouldn’t say we’ve necessarily achieved our aim, especially as its multi-faceted and focused on the long-term: our aim is to drive investment in the sector; improve access to the necessary raw materials, and improve the quality of the work that is produced so that we can have end users sourcing their leather products from Nigerian brands, and creating opportunities for export.
  • What changes or improvements are you particular about in the leather industry? I would like to see an intentional effort by the big players and the policymakers to sit at the table with us the practitioners and help drive the change we need. Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest livestock producers and its leather industry offers a fantastic opportunity to achieve its zero-oil plan. It is a significant area that can help boost exports and job creation; support must, therefore, be increased in the areas of upgrading the systems, training, craftsmanship, production, technology, branding, and access to the market. The government needs to focus on formulating a leather-industry strategy to be driven by stakeholders, initiating the necessary value addition processes that will enable leather designers to have access to processed leathers which are all exported for economic reasons. They also need to create genuine skills acquisition and improvement centres, and this is KEY, invest in appropriate technology, formulate regulations around quality and standards, ensure the enforcement of those standards, then create a leather marketing campaign to attract outside markets to our FLGs.

  • What would you say are the challenges of putting together an industrial/industry event? Planning an event of this magnitude can be extremely stressful and daunting, but I guess as with most events, especially here, the most daunting challenge is finance. Even though there was no lack of buy-in from individuals and corporates we approached, we had great difficulty accessing sponsorship. Cash is king and having the funds to plan can make things a whole lot easier. Once the venue is sorted, you then have to deal with getting the right speakers, keeping track of the event planning process, managing costs and managing time.
  • How have you been able to work around these challenges? I believe very much in this platform, and in the vision that birthed it, so I just keep pushing ahead. I have a great team and we all join hands together to work on the project and make it work, in spite of the many hurdles we have to cross, and the numerous No’s we get.
  • How do you make sure each edition is different?
    We don’t try to reinvent the wheel on an annual basis. We have designed a structure that gives us a chance to showcase designers, create learning opportunities for up-and-comers in the industry, and provide an exciting atmosphere for the public to shop and enjoy the brilliant world of Nigerian leather fashion. We however continue to work at being as innovative as possible and this year we have a few highlights including a special Auction, and the inclusion of designers from other parts of Africa. Of course we have our usual main exhibition, conversations with industry leaders and experts, practical workshops, and runway shows.
  • What should interested attendees look forward to in this edition?
    This year’s edition of the Lagos Leather Fair is themed “Advancing the Conversa” The idea, as the theme implies, is to take the ongoing dialogue to a new level. The Fair will begin with an exclusive pre-event VIP cocktail and auction for HNIs; in this way, we hope to establish an avenue for a private conversation about the Fair with buyers, key government regulators, and potential investors.

     

    The Fair will officially open to the public on Saturday, September 7th, and will run until Sunday, September 8th, at Harbour Point, Victoria Island. It will feature 70 Leather Designers from within Nigeria, and Africa — including established brands such as MUJI Lagos, City Cobbler, IO Furniture, Siod Leather, and up-and-comers like Lamide Samuel, K Aspen, Temi Fisher Leatherworks, amongst others. We are also expecting a few brands from Ghana and Ethiopia. It is expected to be the most dynamic and diverse edition yet.

    We will also be holding conversation-style masterclasses and workshops on retail, raising capital, copyright, sourcing and manufacturing solutions etc., with speakers from different industries, such as Tara Fela-Durotoye (Founder, House of Tara International); Adenike Adeyemi (CEO of Fate Foundation); Mark Stephenson, (Founder of Sandstorm Kenya); Thebe Ikalafeng (Founder of Brand Africa); amongst other prominent individuals.

    This year’s Fair will also feature 6 runway shows, showcasing the designs of the different exhibitors at the Fair.

  • How do you select Industry Experts for the Masterclasses? We are extremely particular about who comes on board with us, so we research different personalities that have made a mark in a particular field of expertise, and not necessarily in the leather industry as we find that many business principles overlap whatever the area of competence. For example, Tara Fela-Durotoye is on board with us this year to discuss the art and science of getting your product to market, having succeeded phenomenally in the retail business. We also make every effort to keep it real and ensure that our speakers have experienced the highs and lows themselves and can, therefore, connect with our audiences.
  • How has the Nigerian audience accepted the Lagos Leather Fair? Without any bias, the Fair has been a huge success since inception. We were surprised, indeed shocked to have had such a huge crowd and a successful first show in 2017 in spite of the novelty of it. Leather is worn by practically everyone and it was the very first time that a show would be solely dedicated to leather and so beautifully curated too. I think the success has been due to a combination of factors- the fact that most Nigerians were unaware of the fact that there were so many leather designers in the country doing such good work, the diverse range of products on display, and the manner in which the Fair was so beautifully organised.
  • What is your projection for the Lagos Leather Fair? I am very excited about what the future holds. We have recorded some major successes and in the past few months have had some people of influence reach out to us. We intend to organise the Fair annually and gradually use the platform to create awareness, build a community, an ecosystem where ‘things work’, empower a growing network of leather designers, curate talent so that we can begin to re-position Made-in-Nigeria and also become more influential players in the global space.