Situated 40km north of Kenya’s capital in Nairobi’s Thika Town, is Luxury Leather Africa also known as LULEA – an enterprise focused on social impact through specializing in training Kenyans to be leaders in the creation of luxury leather goods of outstanding quality.
LULEA was founded by the international premium leather and accessories designer French-born Edmond Chesneau, who began his career in Ireland under the tuition of a former master craftsman from global luxury brand, Hermes.
Mr. Chesneau’s 35 years of experience, coaching workforces in Ireland and Asia, has helped him conceive a knowledge transfer model in the techniques and traditions of leather craftsmanship that he continues to pass onto his LULEA team in Kenya.
“For close to 40 years, I have been in the business of designing, producing and marketing leather accessories for luxury markets around the world. In Kenya, LULEA gives me the opportunity to apply this life-long experience into a meaningful business model in an environment that is now ready for viable growth and development”, commented Edmond.
Asked why he chose Kenya to start his business after successful ventures in Europe and China, Edmond says life is all about taking risks: “I am an entrepreneur and an adventurer, a sports man who rides horses, flies gliders and airplanes. I also ride fast motorcycles and drive fast cars. I have always been interested in that kind of edgy type of living and for me business is another adventure, and Kenya is the perfect backdrop.”
He first came to Kenya in 2011 after a friend pitched the idea of entering Kenya’s growing leather sector and he immediately began doing his research. He made his visit the same year to weigh the market opportunities for his business. “Being on the ground, I got a real feeling of the industry. Though initially small, I saw room for expansion, quality and variety, and that’s why my next flight from Ireland was my goodbye as I moved on to my new business venture in Kenya.”
On starting a business in Kenya, Edmond had to deal with various challenges but that did not deter his ambitions:
“Setting up a business has its own challenges but I am glad that the Government of Kenya is improving this for both local and international investors”, he said, adding: “another challenge was setting up a business in a market where it was closely knit; penetrating it was going to be hard.”
Edmond says that when starting, many people within the industry did not believe that there could be quality leather to go around. He told them that all he needed was a facility, as he had imported the equipment and he could prove it to them that it is possible to craft high quality products in Kenya.
He then met Nancy Warungu – his partner – who was making sandals, which she was retailing for Kshs. 1,200. Since he was a designer, she asked him if he could help her improve her products and he opted to help where he could.
“I took up the challenge from Nancy and I introduced a bit of quality and design to her products from my past experience in Ireland as well as China. Suddenly the price went up to between Ksh.3,500 and Kshs.4,000 and this was because of the small details and quality that comes with the product”, said Edmond