The Sydney tech scene has been bubbling recently. Both political parties are getting behind ‘team innovation’. Legal red tape is being cut to allow local software businesses to get the sort of infrastructure and assistance they need to thrive.
But more recently, tech is being used to do something decidedly un-tech: revive the traditional industries that made colonial Australia great.
Alex Herlihy (pictured) is a Sydney-based leather-maker, management consultant and entrepreneur. He runs a digital management consultancy and helps develop web-based platforms, but his passion has always been crafting leather products.
After working in corporate mergers in 2011, he quit and spent several years travelling, during which he spent some time in Argentina working with local makers and artisans in a Buenos-Aires leather-making factory.
“On coming back to Australia I was shocked to find how little there was in the way of a local leather-making industry” Alex says.
Overseas retailers are constantly looking for Australian-made goods, but there simply wasn’t enough supply to meet it. “In response to that, we decided to roll up our sleeves and put something together.”
The result is The Kangaroo Belt Company
Alex has set up an entirely locally made, ethically sourced leather-making operation based partly out of Sydney, partly out of Aubury-Wodonga.
Its key product is a hand-woven leather belt, utilizing Kangaroo leather to create something that is designed to last longer than the person who wears it.
Kangaroo leather is a by-product of the kangaroo meat industry, just like the leather we get from cows. It is a sustainable business model based on reducing the waste from another industry. No kangaroos are killed for their leather.
It is part of this misunderstanding that contributed to Arnold Swarzenegger’s moratorium on the sale of kangaroo leather in California. This ban, however, is slated to be lifted this year – presenting a new and exciting opportunity for the industry.
An industry resurrected by the Internet
For Alex, the opportunity to revive this industry wouldn’t have existed without the range of free online tools available to entrepreneurs like crowd-funding and social media.
The Kangaroo Belt Company launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $20,000 Australian in the 30 day period.
Most of the attention he has received has come as a result of the campaign’s success. Alex notes that he has received attention from several US-based retailers.
“Kickstarter gives designers and artisans a better means to promote their products to a global market even if they have less experience with the web” states Alex.
The broader group of people that visit Kickstarter come from all different industries, and this is primarily what makes it such a great avenue for entrepreneurs to get their first big break.
Alex had always been optimistic that his crowd-funding efforts would meet their goal – but to get there with just under ten days to spare is a dream come true.
With a little more capital – they could start looking at creating products which require more complicated production line for themselves and other Australian brands, such as laser-cut wallets and larger items like satchels and bags.
He’d love to open a studio in Sydney as well. In Buenos Aires he created leather ‘weekender’ bags with some local makers. So depending on how well the rest of the campaign goes, they will be looking at reviving a few of those designs.
“We like designs that have been enjoyed by generations and have stood the test of time. I’m actually looking at replicating a few bags my grandfather owned – just to give you an idea,” he says.