Meet Semhal Guesh, Ethiopian architect turned manufacturer, produces leather bags for the export market at Tadias magazine

Semhal Guesh, CEO of Kabana Leather, an Ethiopian company that produces a variety of handmade leather products. (How we did it in Africa)

How we did it in Africa

We are talking to Semhal Guesh, CEO of Kabana Leather, an Ethiopian company that produces a variety of handmade leather products.

1. How did you come up with the idea of ​​creating Kabana Leather?

The concept was born while I was making bracelets from scrap leather in college. After two or three failed attempts to run other businesses, I created Kabana in 2017.

At first it was just a hobby. I am an architect by profession and I love design. My passion for design led me to make leather bags. My hobby turned into a business when I employed someone and saw the impact it was having on their life. I left my job in an architectural firm to run Kabana full time.

We manufacture products under our own Kabana brand and also have a contract manufacturing division that manufactures items for international labels. We were 100% focused on the export market until Covid-19 hit and it tested us economically. Subsequently, our target market partly shifted to the local market. Our customers are people and businesses who source ethically produced products.

2. Give us an overview of your product line.

We have tote bags, gym bags, wallets and work bags.

We are currently also producing PPE products, such as face masks and scrubs, with support from the Mastercard Foundation, but this is temporary.

3. Where do you get your raw materials?

Almost 92% of our raw materials are of local origin; these include sheep and goat leather, textiles and canvas. The remaining 8% of raw materials are imported from Egypt, the United States and Taiwan, including zippers, buckles and accessories. We source leather directly from factories and produce it to our color and texture specifications. We choose these factories based on our requirements for sustainability, environmental footprint and child labor-free practices.

Employees of the Kabana leather production plant. (Kabana Leather)

4. Describe your product development process.

For our Kabana brand, we try to have launches twice a year. Design begins with a moodboard with colors, material concepts and design. Usually I work with my team to develop models and designs. We prepare samples and get feedback on them. We then manufacture our selection for launches.

On the outsourced manufacturing side, we get designs from buyers who want products made in Ethiopia. We make samples using their designs with potential alternatives. The approval process typically takes several iterations and discussions; once they approve a sample, we proceed to manufacture according to the purchase orders.

5. Where do you sell your products?

Currently most of our sales are in the US and we send small shipments to Europe, but it hasn’t grown as much as we would like. We also sell small quantities to Rwanda and South Africa.

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Ethel J. Montes

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