Klein Karoo: South Africa's Exotic Luxury Ostrich Leather

Vanessa Zdesar

Nestled in the Western Cape province of South Africa, in the scenic valley between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains, lies the town of Oudtshoorn. Despite its small population of about 60,000 people and its somewhat isolated location, the town is recognized internationally as the ostrich capital of the world. In fact, the town’s establishment and livelihood relied solely on two ostrich feather booms that took place in the mid-19th century and early-20th century, respectively. It only seems fitting, then, that the largest supplier of ostrich leather in the world would call this region of South Africa home. Meet Klein Karoo.

Klein Karoo International, a division of Klein Karoo Group, is a South African tannery specializing in the manufacturing of fine, exotic ostrich leathers, along with Nile crocodile, zebra, and sprinbok skins. The tannery opened its doors in 1970, some 25 years after its parent company – now known as Klein Karoo Group –first established a farming cooperative to revive the region’s ostrich industry and protect the interests of its members. Today, Klein Karoo thrives as the biggest supplier of ostrich leather, making some of the finest leather inspired by the beauty of the animal and the landscape it calls home.

Ostrich leather is extremely unique, quite literally, due to its distinctive quill marks where feathers once grew. It is sought out by top designers across industries for its supple yet durable nature. A hallmark of luxury, ostrich leather is revered as one of the most precious and refined of all exotic leathers. Klein Karoo has pioneered this industry; from start to finish, the tannery carefully controls and monitors all processes to ensure it is developing the finest product.

Klein Karoo is a company made up of members who are farmers – they farm with the animals, they bring them into Klein Karoo, we slaughter them in our facility, and then we distribute the feathers, the leathers and the meat,
— Sarie de Wet, Account Manager at Klein Karoo

“Nothing goes to waste from the ostriches.”

Klein Karoo is active at every stage – from the hatching of eggs to the crusting and finishing of skins – to guarantee the finest quality products. Aside from producing top-level skins, the company’s priority is applying ethical practices that respect both the animal and the environment.  

All Klein Karoo leathers come exclusively from farm-reared ostriches. The company has 450 registered farmer members across South Africa that harvest the ostriches for their skins. Once hatched the birds are tended to by farmer’s whose sole jobs it is to care for these animals. They are 100% free-grazing, open to roam the valley until their slaughter at 10-12 months. This is the perfect time when skin size is optimal and not too tough, yet durable.

Once the skins reach the tannery, further quality control is taken by tagging the skins with a microchip for traceability purposes. In case any issues or questions arise, Klein Karoo is able to track that skin back to the exact farm where that ostrich came from. Everything is in strict order from thereon in, utilizing various tanning and finishing processes that require a mix of dedicated craftsmanship, stringent quality control, and innovative technology and machines.  

“With the size of our tannery, everything is set on a schedule,” explains de Wet. “For example, certain colors are set to be used for dyeing on a certain day of the week.”

The expansive tannery has small experimental drums that hold 1-5 skins, all the way up to large tanning drums that hold 1000 skins. Klein Karoo processes all skins to crust and then produce orders from crust. Every week anywhere between 4000-6000 skins are processed in the tanyard, and each skin is finished in about 4-6 weeks.

Klein Karoo’s ostrich skins are revered and recognized both domestically and internationally by top designers; they are used in luxury markets for high-end fashion garments, unique accessories, furniture, and décor. To keep up with demand, Klein Karoo’s Creative Studio launches a new emblematic collection annually. The company’s standard collection – surely far from standard – of ostrich leathers is offered in a range of over 60 unique colors and countless finishes, but the tannery has over 1000 developed colors. Finishes range from traditional to contemporary, including everything from a saddle finish to a shimmer finish.

Klein Karoo – along with the exotic leathers it produces – is a tribute to the landscapes of Africa and a true testament to authenticity and superior quality. The company continues to innovate and use the latest technologies and methods to develop a product not seen anywhere else on the market. With great success in the fashion and accessories sectors, Klein Karoo plans to expand its market to interiors – particularly in the Americas –showing just how versatile and durable its product is.