Fresh market for SA leather tiles

A bronze giraffe perfectly complements an
Allhide Originals leather floor in Rustic.
(Image: Allhide Originals)

Allhide’s striking range of leather
picture frames.
(Image: Allhide Originals)

Janine Erasmus

Two years of product development are about to come to fruition as Allhide Originals prepares to launch its striking leather tiles on the lucrative overseas market.

Allhide Originals founder and MD Herman Alheit, with 30 years of experience of working with leather as a manufacturer and supplier, has developed and perfected a method of producing a robust leather tile that is as functional as it is beautiful. The entrepreneur from Somerset West in the Western Cape says that with proper care Allhide tiles will outlast almost all conventional floor coverings.

Alheit has already applied for four international patents on his product, and claims that the design and end result are so technologically advanced that they will shake up the world of interior design and decoration.

Richard Beames, Allhide’s international marketing manager, explains that he and Alheit were originally exporters of exotic leathers, such as crocodile, kudu and ostrich, to the US and Japanese markets for boots, wallets, handbags and other accessories. This, he says, was the origin of the leather tile concept.

Allhide leather tiles will only be available to commercial buyers, and at a price of between R3 000 and R3 800 ($400 and $500) a square metre, the tiles are aimed directly at the upmarket sector of luxury hotels and apartments.

“We’ve received a lot of interest from the US and Europe, as well as Japan. At the moment we’re working on Malaysia and Singapore, and we’ve also set our sights on the Middle East,” says Beames, “because there is so much development going on there and it’s the perfect market for our product. We also hope to use these lucrative markets to be able to create more jobs at home.” Currently, Allhide employs 24 people.

Beauty from beasts

The use of Allhide tiles is not just limited to the floor – they also make an effective and unusual cladding for walls and can be used as wall hangings or false rugs as well as on desktops, headboards and other pieces of furniture.

The tiles are available in six different colours in the African Earth range of floor tiles and two patterns in the African Expressions leather rug selection. Four more ranges offer a choice of ceiling tiles, cladding tiles and picture and mirror frames. “The range of frames is made by a framer in Cape Town,” explains Beames, “as that is not our area of expertise.” The African Touch range of accessories is still in development.

The African Expressions pieces are made from zebra skin and Nguni hide, ensuring that no two pieces are ever the same. The Nguni is a breed of cattle indigenous to Southern Africa that plays an important role in the Zulu, Swazi and Xhosa cultures as it symbolises wealth and status. Nguni cattle hides display a range of earthy hues and are often attractively patterned.

Tile installation is carried out in South Africa by Allhide’s own team and internationally by accredited contractors. Trained service teams are available for restoration and repair should this become necessary.

Top quality standards

The texture of the tiles is described as similar to a “hard leather shoe sole”. Each tile is the end product of a precise and pioneering manufacturing process which begins with top-quality leather sourced from suppliers all over the world. “We use mostly cattle hide,” says Beames, “but can work with other leathers including crocodile and ostrich.”

No hunting of wild animals is involved in the procurement of the leather, as all hides are obtained from farm animals. “We have certification from Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to say that all our leather is obtained through approved channels,” says Beames. In addition to locally sourced materials, leather is obtained from Argentina, Brazil, India and Australia, as well as Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Tanneries in these countries undertake the first stage of production, which involves tanning the hides in a traditional manner and then soaking them in ceramic clay, which hardens the material. Further treatment results in a piece that is UV-resistant, waterproof and will not shrink or expand when exposed to water or sun.

Treated hides arrive at the factory in Somerset West where they are compressed and shaved to a uniform thickness, and cut to the required shape. The final step is to fuse the cut tile to a polymer base – a process that is sub-contracted.

Tiles are not permanently bonded to the floor as is the case with ceramic tiles. Instead, the polymer base allows them to be fitted into a flexible frame that can easily be dismantled, thus simplifying replacement and allowing the tiles to be lifted up when moving house.

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