Venture Leather bringing quality leather products to the heart of San Clemente
Nikki Vitale of Fiorina started her partnership with James Crawford of Venture Leather shortly after opening the shop on Avenida Del Mar. After years of learning, traveling and experimenting with leather, Crawford has figured out how to make unique leather bags well, and deliver them to you right here at home.
After studying business and economics in undergrad at Azusa Pacific, completing a microfinance internship in Peru, and then studying international affairs in graduate school at UCSD, Crawford set out to discover how to truly help those in poverty. Over the years, he felt there was an oversight in international development. Many were focusing on policy rather than job creation.
He decided to travel in East Africa, where he had connections, to further his learning. He took a job with 31 Bits – a paper-beading company based out of Costa Mesa with operations in Uganda. Crawford is grateful for his time with the company and all he learned, but says it propelled him to start something of his own.
While living in Uganda, Crawford started to network with people involved in the leather industry. That’s when someone pointed him in the direction of a man named Roy. He was told three things about Roy: he ran a raw operation, he had lots of machinery and he was quite a character. He immediately traveled to Jinja to meet Roy and knew within an hour he had found the ideal partner.
Roy, originally from India, has been living in Uganda since 1996. He was sent by an Indian company to help start the leather industry and started his journey with two employees making safety shoes. He has since become a citizen of Uganda, started his own tannery, and made a family and home for himself. Today, Roy has a tannery with more than 40 employees in Uganda, a factory with 10 employees in Mombassa, Kenya, and tanneries in India as well.
Crawford says leather is Roy’s life. He is passionate about leather and is deeply rooted in the Ugandan community. The president of Uganda even made a visit to Roy’s tannery in 2011, confirming interest in the industry at the highest level. Because Ugandan cows are of such high quality, the leather industry has great potential for job creation in the country.
With a shared passion for doing leather products right, and helping the local economy, Crawford and Roy started partnering in 2015. They have spent a lot of time and energy learning together and discovering best practices to make the highest quality leather products. After some experimentation and some failures, the two entrepreneurs have landed on a business model that is working, and always in the process of improving.
About a year ago, Crawford decided to quit his job at Booz Allen Hamilton and pursue the business full time. He moved to Uganda and things started to really come together. He made a visit to India with Roy to look for quality, affordable hardware materials. While Uganda has high quality leather materials, it still lacks the hardware. In order to complete a good leather product, you need both. By partnering with Roy, Crawford has the tools and connections to make it happen.
Currently, Venture Leather products are made in both Uganda and India, with the semi-processed leather sent from Uganda to be finished in India. The dream is to incorporate more and more products that can be finished in Uganda, into the business. With Both Crawford and Roy sharing a deep passion and drive for making and delivering the best leather products to people, it shouldn’t be long.
Reflecting on the long journey, Crawford says, “People sometimes jump in so fast to help others in different countries. It’s great that people want to help, but sometimes we force solutions before we understand the environment. How do we do better?”
It has taken years for Crawford to get his leather goods out into the market. At every step of the way, he has insisted on doing business with a sense of sustainability, integrity and heart. He is currently investing 100% of profit back into businesses in Uganda, and living off his savings. Anyone who purchases a bag from Venture Leather is directly supporting job creation and poverty alleviation in Uganda.
Visit Fiorina on Del Mar today to see these precious leather bags up close, and make a purchase you can really feel good about! You can also visit VentureLeather.com or @ventureleather on Instagram for more information.