Living off leather

Baitshepi Sekgweng
PENETRATING THE MARKETS: Gobatlilwe and her products

Dinny Leather hard at work

With both products and profits to be made in the Manufacturing sector, more and more Batswana are turning to the industry to make their Pulas.

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Amongst them is 34-year-old, Dineo Gobatlilwe.

Working from home, the hands-on Palapye native turns leather into life, producing a wide range of quality goods through her business, Dinny Leather Works.

With school shoes leading the way in terms of demand, Gobatlilwe’s leather line includes: sandals, handbags, belts, traditional mats and dance attire.

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A Textile Design degree holder from Limkokwing University, the big-dreamer established her company back in 2014 and officially started operating in March of the following year.

Living off leather

“In Textiles, there was no module where we did leather work. After finishing school, I did a short month-long course for Tannery under the Ministry of Agriculture. After this training, I applied for funding from Youth Development Fund and started the business. Because I know how to cut and sew, I transferred those skills into leather work,” reveals the talented, hard-working woman.

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Aided by her two assistants, Gobatlilwe produces impressive volumes.

In a fortnight, she has the capacity to make 600 pairs of school shoes, 60 belts a month, 15 handbags a week, five sandals a day, while traditional attire is done in bulk via special request orders from music groups.

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“I choose leather because it’s unique. In Botswana we have cattle in abundance so we should use all by-products and show investors and foreigners that we can manufacture. I realised there was a market and wanted to bring something different to people and show them a cow is not about only meat and milk,” she explains.

In order to move her products swiftly, Gobatlilwe relies on her stall at Palapye Junction Mall, although she hopes to have her school shoes in the shops by next year.

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“Products have been doing well more especially school shoes, in most cases many people are shocked that there is someone who makes shoes locally. As we speak, I supply Tswapong and Palapye regions with shoes for their Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Traditional groups around the area where I’m operating as well as Botswana Defense Force, Botswana Police Services and Botswana Prison Services also get their attire from me for their traditional dance groups,” she says, noting government, through its various departments, have been supportive.

Although there is a stigma attached to BW-born items, it is something Gobatlilwe takes in her stride; it is also a state-of-mind she is hungry to change.

“When a product is made locally we tend to criticize it but for me I take it as feedback and work on those areas. That’s what helps me to grow and not to give up – but we should be united and support each other as a nation in order for our products to flourish and be competitive,” urged the leather legend, who also trains council clients and students under the Poverty Eradication Programme.

Despite her positive outlook, Gobatlilwe gloomily admits it’s extremely depressing that she has to source her leather from outside the country.

“It’s shocking that as a cattle rearing and beef country we struggle to get hides, more especially as young Batswana trying to making a living out of leather work. The bad thing is that local hides are sold to a tannery in South Africa. From there we buy at an expensive price, which is very bad for business because of taxes at the border and it makes products expensive and less sales. We need a leather park which can make things easier for us since all hides from locally will be tanned here,” laments Gobatlilwe, who procures her raw materials from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

If all goes according to her wildest plans, it is a route she will eventually flip around.

“In five years to come I want to penetrate the South African and Zimbabwean markets because my products are culture oriented, so many people resonate well with them,” says Gobatlilwe, who made several useful contacts when exhibiting at the US-AFRICA Business Summit last month.

For now though, her sights are set firmly on expanding locally, starting with finding a work place away from her home space.

“Working in my backyard is bad; most customers want us in industrial because they are afraid to go into my personal home. I have been confined at home because rentals are high so business grows slowly when I’m home.

“There is a lot of potential in leather work – it’s up to the government to support us by closing borders just like they did with vegetables and school uniform. With that we can make a lot, even those who went out of business can revive their operations. I want to see myself having a branch in Gaborone where most of my customers are based as well as Kasane and Maun.”

Living off leather
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