From herd to haute couture: Nigerian goat leather goes global

Goat farmer finds 'side hustle' as handbag designer
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Goat farmer finds 'side hustle' as handbag designer 07:26

Story highlights

  • Leather goods designer Haowa Bello has migrated to goat herding as a way to source her materials
  • The Nigerian entrepreneur started her business with a $200 loan from her sister in the mid-2000s
  • Now she has sold 600 bags and been stocked by high end boutiques around the world

(CNN)"My car always smells of goat -- I hope it doesn't smell like goat today."

Haowa Bello has good reason to have a fragrant car. The Nigerian goat farmer and accessories designer often uses her vehicle to deliver livestock to her customers.
    "I want them to see me," she argues. "I want them to feel they're getting a personal experience."
    It's a world away from New York, London and Berlin, but that's where some of Bello's goat skin leather ends up -- as Madame Coquette bags on boutique shelves in some of the world's most fashionable cities.
    Bello's business has come a long way. The designer started off with a $200 loan from her sister in the mid-2000s. With the money in her back pocket she set off for a market to track down an artisan to make her first design.
    One of Bello's creations.
    "I had no idea who was going to make the bag. I had no idea what went into [making a] bag," she explains. She didn't even have an illustration of what she wanted to make.
    "I didn't know how to draw. I always hated art," she says, "I felt I wasn't artistic enough." But Bello was able to collaborate with skills craftspeople, whom she says, eventually they used to her "crazy ways".
    In 2008, her first bags were sold and a grant of $25,000 from the Nigerian government allowed Bello to acquire livestock and grow her business.

    Steering the herd

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    For Bello, it's been a steep learning curve. "A year ago, I wouldn't even dream of coming near a goat," she explains. "I hate the way they smell, they are destructive... but I am so, so happy that I have embarked on this journey."
    Today Madame Coquette has produced 600 leather bags and keeps 60 goats, and Bello now dreams of opening her own tannery. This would allow her to control her supply chain further, but Bello insists the tannery will not only serve her business, but also her community. A proud member of the Fulani tribe ("the best herdsmen in the world," she gushes), a tannery would extend her rich heritage whilst giving it a distinctly contemporary edge.
    "I don't know any woman of these parts who had a dream of setting up a tannery," she says. "We live in a society where women are accepted to work, women are encouraged to work, but I don't think we live in a place where women are encouraged to make a difference," she argues. "I want to make that difference."