Gill Quarcoopome… Leather Is Her Life
Gill Quarcoopome is the managing director/creative director at Sole Inspiration, a leather accessory company based in Ghana.
In this interview, she talks about her journey in the African leather industry, how the Lagos Leather Fair impacts players and what more can be done in terms of opportunities for players.
Leather artwork is a unique space to be in; tell us about your long-standing heritage as a leather brand?
I was inspired by my unique business experience of custom-made designs and repeat production of small items and this birthed Sole Inspiration 24 years ago, and the brand is a continuation of the work I started in the United Kingdom. I started small with no aim of becoming very big or competing with other mass-produced brands. Instead, over the years, we have focused on individually custom-made designs and excellent quality. As an over two-decades-long African brand, we consistently use high-quality leather, usually vegetable tanned, to produce bags, belts and small accessories, exhibiting at trade fair shows and producing for a demanding but niche and creative market.
After four decades doing this, what are some challenges you have faced and how have you scaled through?
As an entrepreneur and a business owner in the leather industry, experiencing challenges is inevitable. However, being able to scale through and thrive in the business is what sustains us. One of the major challenges we experienced as is access to quality raw materials. We could import, but this is a costly alternative especially due to unfavourable currency exchange rates. To overcome this, we must be creative so that our work is not dependent on imported materials. Another challenge is finding a market interested in quality leather products and being prepared to pay the price when many designs can be made from inferior, fake, or plastic-based materials. Quality control and attention to detail is also an issue. There is still a perception, despite many leaps forward, that products coming out of Africa are rough or unfinished. This narrative is gradually changing through exhibiting platforms such as the Lagos Leather Fair.
How has exhibiting at the Lagos Leather Fair helped you?
I’d say it has been a great platform, as opportunities for leather workers are not wide in Ghana. Seeing the range of possibilities and various creative companies gathered in one place has been amazing for me, particularly because the event is here in West Africa. The energy and the forward-looking focus of the Fair are things I also admire. Before I joined the fair, I felt isolated, but now I feel elated to be a part of something impactful because of the various elements in the leather value chain the fair brings together. For the various editions I have participated in, I have gotten a lot of feedback on my art which has inspired me to continue to push boundaries with the passion I have.
Would you say the fair has had a significant impact on leather industry, generally?
I would say yes it has, because the fair consistently gathers different sets of people in the leather industry, from the tanners to the leather craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders. Its impact has gone beyond industry players and has brought to the attention of policymakers and the government that there is a flourishing and dynamic leather industry in West Africa and Nigeria in particular. As an industry worth millions of dollars, the Lagos Leather Fair is keeping the possibilities of the leather industry consistently high on national agendas. Also, it has recognised the importance of adding value to the leather raw material supply chain and has consistently worked towards it through various exhibitions, workshops and solution-based masterclasses.
What are your expectations for the event this year?
I’m expecting another dynamic show. Networking across borders is vital and this is what the fair has consistently done. With its reach expanding to Sub-Saharan Africa, I look forward to networking and sharing experiences with more industry experts. I also anticipate discussing ideas, not just in terms of leather, but the business situation, challenges, financing, and taxes, as well as trading across borders. I am excited to see how the fair will expand and stress the importance of African brands. It doesn’t have to be Louis Vuitton, Coach, or Gucci designers. We must show pride in what we make.
How can young designers tap into the huge potential here?
All young designers in the African leather industry have the same challenges young people face everywhere, to decide on a meaningful career. They find it difficult to decide how much energy they will put into something when they can’t necessarily see a pathway through. This is one of the strengths of the Fair, as it reveals the plentiful opportunities available in this field. Collaboration, which is one of the themes of this year’s fair, is a very important part of helping young designers move forward and thrive in the industry currently. Passionate designers never quite know where they’re going to end up but working with leather can lead them into so many creative spaces where sustainable growth is possible.