EBRD and EU help Tunisian shoemaker boost its exports

By Volker Ahlemeyer

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Soprotic grows its business with new strategy

In Tunisia and elsewhere, it is common belief that you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.

But what exactly makes a good shoe?

“You need good materials, the right know-how and a flexible workforce that can adapt itself to different styles and developments,” explains Lassaad Slama, CEO of shoemaker Soprotic. “It is our Tunisian expertise that creates a unique product that is high-quality and beautiful to wear.”

Lassaad has extensive knowledge in this sector. He started his career in the shoemaking industry, working in Soprotic in the early 1990s, together with a friend, an Italian specialist in shoe modelling and production. His company initially produced upper parts of shoes and sold them on.

Building a business strategy

The EBRD and the European Union (EU) supported the company at a crucial stage, he explains. “We did not have clearly defined objectives. We worked as sub-contractors for a while. We also started to work a bit in partnerships with others, but we did not have a clear direction.”

The EBRD’s business advisory programme provides companies like Soprotic with the necessary know-how to grow. In Tunisia, it is funded through the European Union Initiative for Financial Inclusion.*

In the case of Soprotic, the programme found an experienced expert to help the company establish a business strategy, gain additional insight into shoe modelling and improve the company’s marketing and branding.

“We gradually developed a work programme and a roadmap,” said Lassaad. “We developed our partnerships with shoe sellers. We created our own brand. Right now, we are confident in our direction.”

We worked with shoe producer Soprotic to help the company establish a clear strategy, take full advantage of export opportunities and create its own brand.

In Tunisia, our business advisory programme is supported by the European Union.

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Creating employment opportunities

The business advisory programme helps companies explore new opportunities – for example by improving their marketing or accounting systems, meeting internationally recognised quality standards or exporting to new markets. At the same time, they can expand and hire new employees. Soprotic has employed 36 new team members over the last two years.

Samiha has been with the company for 15 years now. “Since the factory opened, many people from our neighbourhood have joined the company. I started as an apprentice and learned how to make shoes from scratch,” she explains.

Similarly, her colleague Khalid joined as an apprentice and has worked his way up to become a supervisor in the shoe factory.

Exports to Europe

Soprotic is one of many companies in Tunisia that saw a good opportunity to sell its products on the European market.

The shoes are exported to various countries: every year 11,000 pairs go to France, 94,000 to Italy and 118,000 are shipped to Spain. Furthermore, the company sells more than 170,000 shoe uppers to European clients.

“There are many ways in which we help the economy to develop in Tunisia,” explained Antoine Sallé de Chou, Head of the EBRD’s office in Tunisia.  “We provide businesses with access to finance and also with advice on how to take full advantage of export opportunities, especially on the European market. In total, our work has supported more than 1,000 businesses in the country since 2012.”

"Soprotic is the perfect illustration of how Tunisian companies can benefit from a privileged trade relationship, such as the one offered by the EU-Tunisia association agreement," stated Patrice Bergamini, Ambassador of the European Union in Tunisia. "By co-financing the business advisory programme implemented by the EBRD, the EU is delivering on its commitment to help Tunisian companies reap the benefits of the many business opportunities offered by an open trade relationship."

With a clear vision on how to grow the business, Soprotic is now ready for the future and can take the next step to expand its activities.

 

*The EU Initiative for Financial Inclusion is a comprehensive programme to help micro, small and medium-sized businesses in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region to become more competitive and grow. It provides finance and know-how to boost development and create jobs.

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