A couple of adventurers with fiery ambition, some might have said of Joseph Mossop and John Coaton. Still, there was something special about the two- they had an eye for opportunity.
In 1842, gaslight introduced South Africa to rapid industrialism, which generated a hub of activity. Those were the days when young men went into the fields, the mills, the mines. They were hard times, but a young Joseph was quick enough to be fortunate. Son of Keswick tanner from Cumbria. Joseph and his brother James had perfected their artisanal leather making ability under their father Thomas's watchful eye.
Eager to carve out their destiny in the leather industry, the two sons emigrated to South Africa, where opportunity and excitement presented themselves. Joseph brought his tanning knowledge to a new booming city called Cape Town. In the 1800s, leather was in wide use. There was no lack of demand for saddles, harnesses, boots and shoes, and with that, Joseph launched his company, Mossop and Sons. In 1846, the first retan drums ran for Mossop Leather in Rondebosch, and production was a spin.
Legend has it that Joseph, noting the gentle but steady flow of soft mountain water, built his tannery on the banks of the Liesbeek River. He was well-positioned to service the passing trade that was on its way up to the mines in central and northern parts of the country.
THE RISE OF WESTERN BOOT AND TANNING (Above "The Old Tannery")
Not long after, Joseph Mossop started his tannery. A former railway worker from Yorkshire, England, settled in the Winelands town of Wellington, South Africa. His name was John Henry Coaton. John had noted the demand for leather from his time in the locomotive industry and had witnessed the leather market develop. John brought his sons Bertie, Robert, and William to Wellington in due course. With proceeds generated during his time on the railway, he opened his tannery. A quick whip of the pen established Western Boot & Tanning Company in 1871.
John's sons were determined to ramp up the tannery's production. They employed 160 workers and embarked on an ambitious project to tan thousands of skins and manufacture several thousand pairs of shoes per year. Western Boot & Tanning Company quickly developed into a genuinely Southern African enterprise by sourcing local hides from the Cape, Gauteng, Free State provinces and neighbouring Zimbabwe. All the while delivering footwear for the industrial wave that had hit South Africa. A steam engine delivered much of the needed energy to power the plant, around 100 horsepower, and a tool we still use today.
John Coaton (left), Joseph Mossop (right)
These two tanneries became the
biggest names in a rapidly growing
footwear industry, in South Africa.
They were unstoppable.
The discovery of diamonds increased sales, and an uptick in production transpired. By 1910, the tannery was a large establishment consisting of several buildings, modern machinery, and 200 workers. Traders came from far and wide to buy leather and footwear. By the close of the century, Mossop and Sons, together with Western Boot and Tanning, were household names on the African continent. They serviced leather for long-standing shoemakers like Strassberger, who needed leather for the terrain of Cederberg. A relationship that to this dates back 175 years.
Mossop and Sons moved their operation to Parow, the industrial sector of Cape Town, to streamline their process and better service their market. Even after receiving international funding, a further four generations of Mossops continued to lead the company into the new millennium.
Similarly, Western Boot & Tanning Co discovered a resurge in growth. One bold bit of 19th-century corporate raiding saw an injection of finance to Western Boots and Tanning from a group of Cape Town businessmen.
The backing also brought with it fresh new talent in the way of three specialists from Germany. Hugo Kocherthaler, managing director of a women's fashion footwear factory near Berlin, his designer, H. Gassert and his young friend, Sigbert Fleischmann. Western Boot & Tanning Co were thrust into the fashion limelight, producing leather for Panther, which Queen Elizabeth sported on her feet. Alfred Jordan, a household name of South Africa footwear, was the founder of Jordan Shoes. He made the first Panthers from Western Boot & Tanning Co before purchasing his footwear factory.
Later, Jordan Shoes would come together with Watson shoes under Bolton Footwear. Today, Bolton Footwear manufactures shoes for various international brands, major retailers, and homegrown brands like Barker, Bronx, and Grasshoppers. The designer H. Gassert would pass his passion for design to Gordon his son, and current Bronx and Bolton designer. It is testimony to how long the relations with both customer and supplier go back.
In 1996, Western Boot & Tanning Co merged with Mossop & Son Leather under "Mossop Western Leathers".
At the turn of the century, Mossop's Parow operation was closed and consolidated at the Western Boot & Tanning Co plant in Wellington. The tannery produced approximately 140 000 m² of leather per month, enough to supply half of all the leather used in South Africa. Two thousand hides per day were tanned and processed for around 750 000 pairs of shoes. The tannery expanded into the international market, with 15% of leather production sold overseas.
2006 saw the sale of the buildings (Western Tanning & Boot Co. operation) and land sold to private owners for use as a venue for function hire. Mossop Western Leathers moved in 2007 to a more modern facility on nearby Blignaut Street in Wellington, which we today call our home. It is here that we make up 2,000,000 Sq. Ft in Shoe Upper And Upholstery per month, and 600,000 Sq. Ft laminated Split leather monthly.
What would the two industrial adventures John and Joseph have thought of all of this? We believe they would love it - just as we do. Dreamers they might have been, but they, their families and associates that followed them, were possessed by a type of fire-in-the-belly ambition, with skill and intelligence to match.
Almost two centuries later and Mossop is still "more than just a tannery". To achieve this slogan, we aim to become a more conscious minded tannery, which creates a positive work-life ethos and a supply chain that provides universal value. After all, this is the world's oldest recycling business.