Stepping Forward: An Insight into Zimbabwe’s Shoe Industry

Zimbabwe has historically been home to a well-established leather industry with fantastic potential to leverage its own resources for the production of quality shoes. At its peak in the 1990s, the country was producing over 8 million pairs of shoes per year.


Sadly, after myriad economic and environmental challenges, the market has gone into freefall with recent findings showing that annual production of shoes in Zimbabwe has fallen significantly to less than 1.5 million.

So why is there such a decline in the Zimbabwean-made quality products the country is capable of producing and can the industry recover?

Difficult times and subsequent decline

It’s a tumultuous time with regards to global business with both large international firms and small local companies fighting to stay afloat.

Zimbabwe in particular has faced prolonged economic challenges with hyperinflation and the temporary abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar, having had a significant impact on businesses and their stability.

A significant portion of economic activity in Zimbabwe occurs in the informal sector with smaller local retail businesses contributing to a large chunk of employment and notable generation of income. Historically, such businesses have relied on local craftsmanship and utilized native materials, further strengthening the local economy.

However, more and more traders are finding it more cost-effective to simply buy wholesale from overseas and then sell them on at a marked-up price as opposed to hand-making them using local materials.

Whilst this may be more prosperous for individuals, on a wider scale it means Zimbabwe is losing thousands of jobs as well as profit to foreign nations.

The legacy of the leather industry

A quick look at this travel blog will immediately show the extent to which local materials have historically played a vital role in the production of shoes around the world. Whether it’s Russian Laptis made of tree bark, Spanish Espadrilles made of grass, or a solid pair of wooden clogs; using locally sourced and natural materials has always been at the heart of the shoe-making process.

It seems surprising, therefore, that the manufacturing of home-tailored shoes has come to an almost standstill in Zimbabwe especially given the country’s strong agricultural sector and excellent conditions to maintain constant production of leather.

This slowing down is perhaps largely due to the many challenges Zimbabwe has faced within animal husbandry which has impacted immensely on both the quality and quantity of leather production. Poor pasture conditions caused by extreme weather and periodic draughts have affected animal health and productivity whilst inadequate infrastructure and transport links have hindered the movement of livestock and access to markets.

Furthermore, the land reform policies implemented in the 2000s have also resulted in significant changes to land ownership and use, in turn leading to disruptions and slowed productivity.

A step in the right direction

Whilst there is no getting away from the fact that leather production in Zimbabwe has slowed dramatically, things could soon start to change, with several measures being put in place to get the sector back on its feet.

Trade promotion agency ZimTrade has been working with businesses by implementing technical intervention programmes with the aim of repositioning Zimbabwe’s leather industry.

The agency is also raising awareness of the need to address the conditions of animal husbandry ensuring that the leather Zimbabwe produces is of the highest calibre, putting the country in good stead to return to form as a global competitor within the sector.

It can only be hoped that a combination of these new initiatives alongside a new wave of more eco-conscious consumers, might just be enough to put Zimbabwe on track to generate sustainable economic growth and reposition the country’s leather industry as a notable export giant and one to watch in the future.

Post published in: Business

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