Sector: Artisanal Production
Partner since: 2016
In Bukavu - a city of 1.3 million people in the South Kivu region of Eastern Congo - the market for sandals and shoes is dominated by cheap imports from Uganda, Kenya, China and Dubai. These are poor quality, made largely of plastic and rarely last the rainy season. And yet, there is a near absence of local production in Kivu, particularly high-quality, durable shoes and sandals. The market is there - as exports of gold and coltan minerals from the region have increased there is a growing class of young people with greater disposable income and a desire for more fashion- forward products. However, for entrepreneurs, accessing the support and resources to enter this market is a major barrier.
Olivier Mahesha founded Kivu Leather in spite of these challenges. Having previously worked for a company that operates the only mechanised mine in Kivu, Olivier saw an opportunity to recycle their old conveyor belts (made of thick rubber) into rubber soles for sandals and shoes. This would not only deliver a high-quality product, it would enable Olivier to increase the value of cast-off materials. Olivier conducted his own market research and undertook an apprenticeship with a local craftsman in order to launch his initiative. Kivu Leather was founded under a tarpaulin on a tin roof in the Kadutu slum in Bukavu, South Kivu. Their ‘flagship’ leather sandals, slippers and shoes carried the ‘Ngozi Matata’ label, which translates as ‘Strong Skin’ or ‘Solid Leather.’
Ensemble provided Kivu Leather with its first source of external financing, a 24-month loan of $10,000 in October 2016, as well as support for the company’s market research and brand position.
With Ensemble’s support, Olivier moved production from the Kadutu slum to an airy, illuminated workshop. This not only have a dramatic impact on working conditions, it also strengthened production.
The previous location had no electricity and so the few machines employed by Kivu Leather could only work on generators.
The regular supply of fuel and oils for the machines and their unreliability led to high overheads.
The move to a workshop with an electricity supply addressed this challenge whilst the workshop inspired greater confidence amongst potential customers.
Olivier has since been able to employ 15 members of staff, strengthening their monetary well-being and providing them with new skills and expertise.
Kivu Leather’s products are now sold across local kiosks and markets within a 135 km area of the workshop, including across the major city of Bukavu.
Reflecting the challenges of operating a business in Kivu, market fluctuations still pose a significant risk to Olivier’s business operations. In late 2018, Kivu Leather’s revenue was significantly impacted by uncertainty around the Presidential election. This was particularly true in rural areas (a key market for Kivu Leather’s low-price sandals) where people chose to hold onto their money in anticipation of potential unrest, inflation and shortages.
In response, Ensemble is working with Kivu Leather to address the impact on the business pursuing new sources of free equipment and partnerships with companies promoting products specifically from Kivu to help access speciality markets.