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China in Africa: The Real Story

Creative Destruction: Chinese Competition and the Rebirth of Ethiopia's Shoe Industry

Deborah Brautigam

Ethiopian brand Sole Rebels targets the export market
I returned from Ethiopia about a week ago. Leather is a big deal in the country (and several Chinese firms are investing large amounts in tanneries and shoes). Around 2001, Ethiopia's shoe industry was severely hit by competition from cheap Chinese imports. Omar Redi of Fortune (Addis) reports on the shoe industry's remarkable recovery over the past decade. Originally serving only the local market, Ethiopian companies like Peacock are now exporting to Italy. "The industry," Redi says, "has survived the onslaught from Chinese competition and prospered."

Highlights of the Ethiopian shoe story:
  • The history of leather industry in Ethiopia dates back to 1928, but focused only on the local market. Chinese imports began to swamp local markets around 2000. 
  • In an unexpected twist of fortune, the Chinese challenge presented an opportunity for Ethiopian shoe manufacturers by pushing them to focus on the quality, design and durability of their products so that they can win the hearts of, at least, the local users.
  • For Peacock Shoes, the pinnacle of the problem was a wake up call; they realised that if they did not compete with better quality and price, their business in the shoe manufacturing sector would crumble.
  • "It was at the height of the challenge around 2001 that we imported our first huge machineries from Europe," Elias said.
  • A leather training institute also helped. Since January 2009, the institute began benchmarking work, under which best practices in the industry from across the world are implemented at Peacock and Anbessa Shoe Share Company.
  • Peacock Shoes now earns around $4 million a year from exports to Europe. Read more here.