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Celebrating Africa’s Creativity and Innovation in Leather Design

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Panel of judges. Photo/courtesy
Panel of judges. Photo/courtesy

The Real Leather. Stay Different. (RLSD) Africa Talent Leather Design Showcase 2024 has kicked off phase two of the competition with exceptional participation from across the African continent. Countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and others have submitted impressive designs, marking the beginning of an exciting phase of the competition that launched on March 21, 2024.

The design concepts submission closed on June 14th at midnight. This design submission period was extended by one week to accommodate a request from participants across the continent who showed overwhelming turnout and interest.

“We intend to capture the best of Africa’s leather design talent through submissions to the Real Leather. Stay Different. Africa Talent Leather Design Showcase 2024. We will offer to the world the best leather designer who can outcompete other regional winners at the global showcase later in the year,” says Beatrice Mwasi, Managing Director of the Centre for Business Innovation & Training.

The RLSD Africa Design Showcase 2024 is more than just an event; it is a movement dedicated to celebrating the intricate beauty, versatility, sustainability, and environmental potential of leather.
This global initiative, presented by the Leather & Hide Council of America (L&HCA) and the Africa Leather and Leather Products Institute (ALLPI), is coordinated in Africa by the Center for Business Innovation and Training (CBIT).

Event organizers have outlined the next phase, which involves a detailed review by a panel of judges.

The top 5 entries each from the categories of apparel, accessories, and footwear will advance to the physical product development stage. Selected designers will then bring their design concepts to life, culminating in a prestigious exhibition where these designs will be showcased to industry leaders, potential buyers, and the public.

Designs must comprise at least 50% cowhide leather, with a preference for natural or organic materials. The use of fur or exotic skins is prohibited, as is the use of plastics, except where no natural alternatives exist. Entries should highlight the various qualities of leather, such as its beauty, versatility, strength, and durability. The Showcase is open to all designers, university students, and SMEs across Africa who are eager to present their unique creations.

The leading design will be titled “The Most Commendable Designer,” and the designer will be invited to Europe, offering them international exposure and recognition. The competition includes a “People’s Choice” Award, allowing the public to vote for their favorite designs. Organizers emphasize that public voting is a crucial element, enabling the public to celebrate the designs that resonate most with them.

The journey will culminate in a grand final judging event in Ethiopia, where the top 15 contestants selected from across Africa in the categories of apparel, accessories, and footwear will exhibit their designs. Three winners will be picked from these categories, plus a “People’s Choice” winner. Organizers encourage the public to stay tuned for updates and behind-the-scenes looks as the competition progresses, highlighting the importance of witnessing the transformation of concepts into finished products and participating in the voting process.

Leading the panel is Preston Viswamo, ALLPI’s Regional Design Studio Project Manager. With over 25 years of experience in the leather NGO and education sectors, Preston brings extensive knowledge in leather value chains, cluster development, footwear design, and vegetable leather technology.

Joining him is Michael Redwood, a seasoned veteran with nearly 60 years in the leather industry. An alumnus of Leeds University in Leather Science, Michael has held senior technical and managerial roles across the globe, from the UK to Asia. He has served as a Visiting Professor in Leather at Northampton University and as a part-time Teaching Fellow in Marketing at Bath University. As a prominent advocate for Leather Naturally and a Trustee of the Leather Conservation Centre, Michael’s expertise lies in the circular economy and ESG agenda.

Renowned Ethical Fashion expert Jacqueline Shaw also lends her expertise to the panel. Founder of Africa Fashion Guide, Jacqueline has 16 years of experience in the global fashion industry. She is an author, public speaker, university lecturer, and consultant, recognized internationally for her work in ethical African fashion. Jacqueline’s mission is to educate and reshape perceptions of Africa’s fashion and textile industry, advocating for sustainable and responsible fashion practices.

Tezera Ketema, co-founder of Podohub.com and an award-winning leather footwear design and technology specialist, brings a focus on innovation and sustainability. Tezera’s company, Podo Pal, gained international acclaim for designing and manufacturing parade boots for the Canadian Winter Olympic and Paralympic Team in 2006.

Lastly, Judy Maina, the visionary founder and CEO of Siafu Leather, now DAKARI, is renowned for her commitment to circular economy principles and sustainable fashion. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Judy’s company exemplifies ethical and innovative leather production, ensuring that entries align with the values of sustainability and social responsibility.

This diverse and accomplished group of judges brings a wealth of experience from Africa’s burgeoning leather industry and beyond, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of the submitted designs.

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