Dorper lambskin boots a shoe-in for farmers

Zach RelphCountryman
CTY Dorper Lamb owner Graeme Howie with his company's new lamb skin boots. Pic. Iain Gillespie The West Australian
Camera IconCTY Dorper Lamb owner Graeme Howie with his company's new lamb skin boots. Pic. Iain Gillespie The West Australian Credit: The West Australian

A family-owned WA business, which has spent the past 15 years supplying high-end red meat from paddock-to-plate, has a new product — lambskin footwear.

Canning Vale-based premium red meat supplier Dorper Lamb has launched its leather boot range, handcrafted from Dorper lamb skins to “look the part in the bush or on the high street”.

For Dorper Lamb managing director Graeme Howie it has been an idea long in the making.

Alongside wife Nina, Mr Howie has forged a strong reputation supplying quality Dorper lamb, Wagyu and Angus beefs to international markets since 2005.

The company has built a strong customer base in Asian nations, such as Singapore and Malaysia, and is well-known as a quality protein supplier.

But Mr Howie has always sought to expand Dorper Lamb.

To achieve that, the former livestock export buyer explored avenues to maximise a Dorper lamb’s whole carcase value after the animal was processed.

Dorpers hail from South Africa and are known as a “hair sheep”, which do not traditionally grow wool.

After learning more about the breed’s sought-after skin, Mr Howie was inclined to attempt producing high-end fashion footwear with Dorper lamb hides.

“I’ve always had an interest in leather boots,” Mr Howie said.

“When I became more aware of the Dorper leather, and its strengths compared to other leathers, I thought I’d make myself a pair.”

A bootmaker in Fremantle made Mr Howie a pair of boots from Dorper skin about two years ago, while the idea was in its concept phase.

From there, the idea was developed further.

Dorper Lamb found a footwear workshop in Spain specialising in leather boots, with Mr Howie visiting the facility last October to gain a better understanding of production.

“We’ve been at this for a couple of years — they’ve come up good,” Mr Howie said. “Top-end Dorper skins end up in Louis Vuitton and Chanel bags, so I thought: ‘If they’re using them, we should be using them to make high-end products for our customers’.”

The pure-bred Dorper skins are sourced from abattoirs across Australia, including WA.

It is a strict selection process to ensure skins fit a certain grade, size, shape and purity.

The Dorper skins must also not be damaged by rips, tears, holes, seeds or flay marks.

After the undamaged raw skins are selected, Dorper Lamb ships them to Europe for further processing, grading and sorting.

In Europe, the skins are cleaned and treated to remove hair, fat, muscle and dirt.

The traceability of the raw hides through the processing stage is important to Dorper Lamb to deliver quality boots.

Mr Howie said it was a delicate process to create a soft and well-finished leather boot.

“Years ago, the skin didn’t have a home and it would be thrown out or sold to China,” he said. “We’ve sent about 14 sea containers into Europe, with each container holding about 5000 skins. The skins are then graded, processed and turned into leather, and we have access to that leather product which we can turn into our boots.”

Last month, Dorper Lamb released its debut range of limited edition leather boots.

The three styles are named after well-known WA rivers – Gibb, Murchison and Blackwood.

Dorper Lamb plans initially to produce about 100 pairs a month.

“It is another source of income for the business,” Mr Howie said.

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