MILLENNIUM Footwear is one of the country’s leading exotic leather shoes manufacturer, based in Bulawayo. The company manufactures exotic shoes made from elephant, ostrich, buffalo, wildebeest and crocodile skin including safari, classic, safety and security shoes, as well as sandals.
It also produces belts made from cow and crocodile hides. Currently, the company is busy exploring export opportunities in the Sadc and European Union blocs. NewsDay (ND) business reporter, Mthandazo Nyoni spoke to the company’s founder, Stuart Simali (SS) about its prospects. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
ND: Recently you indicted that you were trying to make a shoe that can be marketed on the international scene and conforms to the European Union standards. How far have you gone about the vision?
SS: Our products meet world standards. However, there is still a lot of improvement to be done in terms of quality, designs, styles and the quality of raw materials.
ND: Which countries are you currently exporting to?
SS: Currently we are vigorously marketing our shoes within the Sadc region. We attended the Windhoek Show. We are currently in Botswana from October 31. We have also attended the Lusaka and Ndola shows. The response from the public is encouraging.
ND: How are the export volumes so far?
SS: No volumes to talk about at this stage. This is a marketing stage, making people aware of the brand and building confidence in the brand.
ND: What is your current capacity utilisation?
SS: Our current capacity utilisation is very low due to a number of challenges facing the leather sector and the Zimbabwe economy at large.
ND: What major challenges are you facing as a player in the leather sector?
SS: Major challenges, again we all know them. Cash problem, shortage of raw materials, low buying power for our customers, some suppliers demanding cash payments. Inflated prices, if paying by real-time gross settlement, used shoes being sold on streets everywhere and nothing is being done.
ND: We have witnessed many companies in the leather sector in Zimbabwe closing shop in recent years due to a number of economic challenges, but you have soldiered on despite all this. Could you kindly share with us the secrets of your success?
SS: We are not successful, we are doing what we love and so if you love what you are doing, you can’t easily give up. At the moment, it’s easy to give up than to continue operating. We all know the challenges facing us as a country.
ND: How are you surviving in this hostile economic environment?
SS: We are surviving by the grace of God. First and foremost at the same time we offering something different, of high quality (and) made with passion. Remember, we make exotic products from skins such as elephant, giraffe, crocodile and buffalo. All made under strict guidelines.
ND: What are your major expectations from government for the sector?
SS: Make it easy to do business, stop these smuggled used shoes, which are killing the already-dead leather sector.
ND: Government has designated Bulawayo as a special economic zone for leather and textile. As a player in the leather industry, how are you taking advantage of this?
SS: It doesn’t favour someone already operating here. It favours someone from outside with a lot of money coming to invest. There is nothing for a struggling company or companies because we have to apply then someone will decide whether you qualify or not. The whole issue favours foreigners.
ND: Do you think leather industry stands to benefit from this initiative?
SS: I don’t see much benefit unless this is able to nurture and be of assistance to the already operating but struggling companies. The idea is good but the conditions are not good.
ND: Where do you see Millennium Footwear in the next five years?
SS: Increased capacity utilisation, increased employment, introduction of new lines and increasing our contribution in the economic revival of our country. By the way, we came second in this year’s Zimbabwe Investments Authority awards in the SMEs category. So we greatly appreciate the recognition we are getting from Zimbabwe.
ND: What is the current state of the leather industry in Zimbabwe? Are there any opportunities?
SS: Currently the state of affairs is difficult and the operating conditions are difficult. There is also the issue to do with exporting raw hides which causes the shortage of good quality hides which affect the quality of finished products. The argument being that local tanners have no capacity to absorb all raw hides due to low capacity utilisation and low buying power.
The big question is, how are we going to export good quality products when there are no good quality raw hides? People end up re-importing the same material at a higher cost. For whatever reasons we have, let’s add value first and then export.