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Love affair with leather

Marlon Madden

Love affair with leather

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For the past 20 years he has been plying his trade and has hardly felt as if he worked a day in his life.
Ronald Thomas is owner and director of Caribbean Craft Creations – a small manufacturer of leather products including belts, wallets, bags and footwear.
And while the current economic climate has forced a number of entrepreneurs out of business and caused larger organizations to downsize, Thomas said he was not daunted.
Speaking to BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY recently following his participation in the annual Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX), the 48-year-old said his passion for crafting the products was constantly growing, and that kept him going.
Thomas currently works alone and sometimes gets assistance from his wife.
“Over the past 20 years it was more like a trade and over the past four to five years it has become a registered business. So it was more like a passion that keeps growing.
“This job developed through my love for handmade products. I have always liked to wear leather shoes and use a leather pouch to keep my documents,” he said.
Thomas, who operates from Oistins Bay Garden in Christ Church, said though most of his patrons were tourists, Barbadians also loved leather products and he expected locals to eventually buy more locally produced items.
“I am deep into the tourist sector now. A lot of the tourists come back to Barbados and look forward to meeting me and buying some of my products because when they take it back home, it is amazing the kind of response they get from friends and family. It is a tourist attraction.
“There is a high love in Barbados for leather products . . . . So I would say that the response is good,” he said.
The Guyanese-born said he wanted to help grow the local craft industry.
“We can [process] the Black Belly sheepskin that is being discarded so that we can use it for manufacturing purposes and as an attraction,” he said.
“People always inquire where I get the material, so it is nice to know you can say it is from the Black Belly Sheep right here. And I guess they would be excited to see the process of it.
“I can see myself being very much entrenched in developing myself and Barbados as a destination people will want to come back to,” added Thomas.
He said patronage was on the increase and he expected it to continue.
“When I do the trade shows, people would call to find out if I am there so they would come and choose the things to purchase,” added Thomas.
“I have been doing BMEX from early 2000. It has benefited me tremendously because of the promotion there. I gained mileage from the fact that they use my products as advertisements sometimes and they always give me the opportunity to be part of the show,” he said.
Thomas said he would love to source all his raw materials locally but very often suppliers were unable to meet the demand.
“Most of my material comes out of Guyana,” he said.
The Christ Church resident said, however, fortunately for him he would always have some “back-up”.
“For example, during BMEX the local shops ran out of leather so I had to use my back-up. That creates an edge for me to know that I have a back-up to get my material,” added Thomas.
The entrepreneur said his major challenge was being recognized as a businessman and getting people to share his vision.
“Sometimes people will see it as just ordinary stuff but there is a passion for creativity,” he added.
Having operated on the West Coast before, Thomas described it as more high-end tourism, adding that he would get more mileage there “but the South Coast is more active; there is more energy and human traffic is heavier on the South Coast”.
The father of three said although not every day was a selling day, his business has been providing for him and his family adequately.
Saying that he would love to expand his operations one day, Thomas said: “I see the sky as the limit for me . . . . I see myself being based in Barbados but expanding through the region. I see myself over the next five years being able to offer employment and contribute more towards the development of this island”.
His advice to those considering starting a business is to “turn any no into a yes”.
“For a true entrepreneur there is no impossibility . . . . You have to believe in yourself and know that what you are doing is what you want to do,” added Thomas.