The Nguni cow skin is favourable in making fur-tanned products because of its peculiar type. The fur tanned products are made out of animal skin that has its natural colour and contains fur.
The skin goes through a fur tanning process. This involves adding chemicals to the skin that keep the fur intact. The process aims to retain the skin to take the form it had when the cow was alive after going through the slaughtering process.
Signature Crafts, a local design studio, has exposed the beauty of this special cow breed through fur-tanned products. Officials say theirs is the only black-owned company in Bulawayo involved in the highly specialised, white-dominated business.
Designer of the studio, Mr Sibusiso Sibanda said:
“The Nguni cow is a special breed and that is why we use the skin’s natural colour to produce leather products. The colours on the skin are a signature themselves as they have no duplicate. Every skin piece from each cow has its individual colour and spots, no other Nguni cow can have similar colours,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said the Nguni cow skin was waterproof and the furs on the skin were shiny and of the right size which made the skin ideal for fur-tanned products.
“We only use the Nguni skin for our fur-tanned products because no other cow skin is appropriate for such products. The fur is shorter than other furs, softer and it is of good colour. These attributes make the skin a peculiar skin type.
“This peculiarity of its skin makes the Nguni cow skin appropriate for producing leather products using skin that contains its furs,” said Mr Sibanda.
The Nguni cow breed is locally found in Matabeleland region but originates from Natal in South Africa. It is bred for the purpose of using the skin for producing leather products. Its natural colour schemes catch the eye and have become a main attraction mostly to tourists. Each cow has a unique colour scheme which differs from any other Nguni breed.
Mr Sibanda said the Nguni cow breed required delicate rearing in order to avoid any damages on the skin. He said any scars on the skin made it difficult for the skin to be used for fur-tanned products as it had to be clear of any flaws.
“We rear some of the Nguni cows that we later slaughter to retrieve the skin. There are several strategies we use to protect the skin from any damages. Firstly we keep the cows in an unfenced area as the fence may cause harm to the skin if cows are scarred by the fence.
“We also brand our cows on the lower parts of the body and not on the skin in order to avoid any damages,” said Mr Sibanda.
Another worker at the design studio said the Nguni cow skin did not only need extra care during the rearing process but during the tanning process as well.
“We tan the cow skin so that we can maintain the fur. We carefully wash the skin just before the tanning process so that we remove any flesh or fats that remain on the skin.
“This is a delicate process because if the skin is mistakenly damaged during this process, it becomes a defect and cannot be used to produce fur-tanned products. Fur-tanned leather products require the actual length of the cow skin which has no flaws. This is because we follow certain granules when cutting the skin,” he said.
He said the fur tanned skin was used to produce a variety of leather products which comprised day beds, floor carpets, floor mats, chairs and a wide range of other furniture products. These can be used for different purposes such as decoration, house use and office use.
Creative director for the studio, Mr Vengai Mudzingwa, said not all Nguni skins were used for producing fur tan leather products.
“We select the best skins that we have and we later use these. This does not mean we throw away the defects but we use them to produce fine tanned products as we also provide such leather products.
“These have a fine surface as we remove the furs during the tanning process and we go on to add colour to the skins,” said Mr Mudzingwa.
He said the tanning process for the fur-tanned leather used up more chemicals and took up more time than that of the fine leather. Some of the chemicals that were used include salt, chrome sulphide and sulphuric acid.
“The tanning process for the fur leather takes up to two or three weeks to be complete. There are chemicals that we apply to the skin that preserve the skin and we do not apply them on fine skin.
“These chemicals are meant to maintain the skin colour and the furs,” said Mr Mudzingwa.
The design studio processes their own leather skin and they go on to design frames for the desired products and they add the cushioning to the designed frames.
“In the designing process we build the frames using a certain wood type. We add the foam rubber and cover it with the tanned skin that we stitch on. The covering depends with the design of the products as some are fully covered with leather while other products are
left with uncovered wood in some areas,” said Mr Mudzingwa.
He said the type of wood that was selected for the frame depended on the desired product.
“We use soft and hard wood for our products. Under hard wood we mostly use teak which is a long lasting and strong wood. The teak is mostly used to make furniture that we do not cover.
“Other hard woods that we use are the mahogany, mukwa and oak wood. The soft wood that we often use is the pine wood,” said Mr Mudzingwa.
The design studio views the leather products as an investment as the products are durable and people are slowly taking up the use of leather products.
“When we started producing fur-tanned leather products our clientele comprised tourists. Local people are now realising the beauty of fur-tanned leather and our clientele is extending to local people.
“At the moment we are mostly targeting local hotels and lodges because we believe that it is where we believe people can see the beauty of these products and be compelled to put them in their homes,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said indigenous manufacturers appear reluctant to produce fur tanned leather products but the design studio decided to take the initiative of exploring the market.
“We want to provide products from a variety of animal skins. We want to venture into crocodile farming and ostrich farming as well as other farming activities in order to provide a wide variety of leather products.
“We are working on a gallery that will be opened soon which will operate as a showroom for the samples of our products,” said Mr Sibanda.