Skinned in Kenya, sold in London for millions

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By CHARLES LWANGA, Business Daily.SUMMARY
  • She takes the crocodile skin to a firm abroad that processes them and makes the bags.
  • The British entrepreneur said to break into the world of making luxury bags like Hermès, you need to do extensive research on fashion trends and master the exotic skins and hides business.
  • Her bags have a blend of nubuck {top-grain cattle leather} and an interior lined with supple Nappa leather and silver foil embossed logo.

 

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Mildred Parker, who rears crocodiles in Malindi, takes about two years to turn the exotic skins into luxury bags that fetch about Sh5 million a piece.

‘‘A ruby {the reddish colour} handbag costs Sh5.1 million while the other colours sell for Sh4.3 million each,’’ she said.

She takes the crocodile skin to a firm abroad that processes them and makes the bags.

The British entrepreneur said to break into the world of making luxury bags like Hermès, you need to do extensive research on fashion trends and master the exotic skins and hides business.

“It is a business that requires a lot of attention to detail. You can lose all your money producing skin which does not have the right quality,” she said adding “quality standards also keep on increasing and the price fluctuates depending on demand in the global market.”

For one to set up a luxury crocodile handbag business, you would require a minimum of about £100,000 (Sh13 million) to cover design, leather sourcing, excluding marketing and branding, she adds.

 

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Her bags have a blend of nubuck {top-grain cattle leather} and an interior lined with supple Nappa leather and silver foil embossed logo. They come in ruby, black and brown colours.

Because the crocodile bags are one of the most-sought after in the fashion world, they come embedded with a serial number and Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled satellite tracking device.

Ms Parker said she sells to individual luxury buyers and she is currently negotiating an in-store deal with a major luxury department store in London.

She mostly relies on online marketing to reach her discerning customers.

“I have hired personnel to assist me with online marketing and selling of the handbags globally,” she said.

Her passion for fashion and design started 15 years ago with making ostrich skin handbags.

“I then thought of getting expensive hide for my business which brought me to Africa,” she said.

“I began by buying crocodile skin from Mamba Village in Mombasa before securing a licence from Kenya Wildlife Service to establish a farm in 2012.”

She rears Nile species found in River Tana and slaughters them when they are three years old and she uses four skins to make one bag.

“I collect croc eggs at the banks of River Tana, incubate them at the farm in Kakoneni until they hatch and then feed them to maturity,” she said adding “the animals are aggressive in nature during feeding and can damage their skin.”
To fetch good prices, crocodile skin must be without blemish.

Growing demand

However, she said despite the growing demand for crocodile skin-bags, the recent law that lumped crocodile farms in the same tax category as local tanneries such as cattle, sheep and goat leathers making them pay 80 per cent export duty has negatively affected the business.

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“Cattle, sheep and goat leathers are cheap to produce and valued differently compared to crocodile skins that needs extensive care to obtain the best skin for business,” she said.

Ms Parker said US and Europe buyers are now turning to Zimbabwe with a duty of 15 per cent and South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia which also have lower duty for exported raw skins.

“I request the government to consider reducing this burdensome tax to allow the crocodile industry to grow and be competitive,” she said.

The entrepreneur who rears about 1,000 crocodiles usually donates the meat after slaughter to children homes.

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Writer at Tunayo Business Magazine