“It all started off with my father who discovered he had the drive to manufacture leather goods in the late 80s”. These are the words of Shilongo Leather Works General Manager, Thomas Shilongo who narrates the tale of how Shilongo Leather Works began.
“Around the time of the old South African regime, my dad and his friend travelled from the North where they lived to Windhoek in search for a paying job. They stumbled upon one where they met a man who was into making leather products”.
With a smile on his face and passion ablaze in his eyes as if his dad were retelling the story to him, Shilongo further explained that with the little knowledge his dad obtain from the job he continued to build on it.
“He started a small business where he made products such as belts and wallets which he sold and made a living from”.
However the dream of the small business was short lived when his father was arrested because black people at the time did not have many privileges which put the business on hold.
Shilongo further explained that after his father’s release, his father fled to Angola and only returned to Namibia after independence.
“After independence the atmosphere felt more relaxed which then gave my father the confidence to resume leather production once again and he never looked back since.”
Shilongo Leather Works, a Namibian based leather manufacturing store has kept the production of leather goods running for over 30 years in the country. Established in 1986 by owners Sakeus Shilongo and Selma Shilongo the store has become more than just a well-known brand name amongst many Namibians.
A good pair of shoes made from leather can last you for several years and remains an individual’s best bet to reducing the constant need of rebuying goods in a short period of time.
The use of leather dates back to the late 19th century where our ancestors made use of it as a form of clothing, footwear and crude tents. It is therefore no surprise that up to date people still make use of leather for these very same purposes and much more.
The business which started off from humble beginnings has thus far grown into a company that has expanded within the borders of Namibia that has employed 53 workers.
The family run business became popular over time with their main product being the Veldskoen which is a handmade ethnical shoe that people still wear today.
Other products such as belts, poaches, bags, sandals, wallets, book covers, wrist bands, travel bags, key holders to name but a few are all manufactured at the store on the basis of culture.
The cultural background in the production on these goods has also made is easier for the company to continue creating of on basic knowledge as none of the employees have gone to any sort of design or creative school.
However apart from competitors just like any other businesses Shilongo Leather Works experiences its fair share of challenges such as delays in zippers, buttons and buckle deliveries which they import from South Africa. Paying import duties and taxes have become a hassle for the store.
“Another challenge would be trying to break into the market, most people think that the Veldskoen for example is ideal for farmers only and trying to get people to see that it can be worn on any other normal casual day by whomever has proven to be difficult.”
Nonetheless this has not kept the store from performing its social responsibilities for the community at large. The store has so far created employment for unskilled people that receive on the job training, had boxing campaigns that raised money which they donated to various charity organisations and has also donated some of their products to members of the community who are less fortunate.
From selling their products at Craft Centre and under a yellow tent near Antonio’s Arts to now having various stores in towns such as Ongwediva, Okahandja and two stores in Windhoek as well Shilongo Leather Works is well on the way to becoming a brand that will cross the borders someday.
The store has plans to further expand to more towns in the country as they have already established networks with vendors that sell their products such as Gondwana.
The company aims to also have its products sold in Nigeria because it is highly populated and breaking into the Nigerian market would be a dream come true, not only for Shilongo Leather Works but for the country as well.