AFRICAN LEATHER FOOTWEAR
Everybody needs shoes. We don’t just buy them to protect our feet; shoes are a popular way to express our style and fashion sense as well as our culture.
With a population of over one billion people, footwear is one of the fast and top business opportunities in Africa.
It’s not just the money that’s attractive to the footwear industry. Africa is also richly endowed with the raw materials, impressive talent and affordable labour that gives it the edge to build a multi-billion dollar footwear industry.
African countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria (just to mention a few) are leading the footwear revolution on the continent. Ethiopia, for example, is already home to more than 30 tanneries and several manufacturers that produce shoes and other leather goods for both the local and export markets.
In 2013 alone, Ethiopia earned over $30 million from shoe exports, which ranks it ninth in the global leather goods industry. And this is only the beginning. As more countries join in, the value of Africa’s footwear industry could grow to $1 billion in the next decade.
Let’s meet the top 10 Made-in-Africa footwear brands…
1. Sole Rebels (Ethiopia)
Solerebels is arguably the most popular and fastest-growing African footwear brand in the world. It sells its ‘eco-friendly’ brand of footwear in more than 50 countries; including the USA, Canada, Japan and Switzerland.
Bethlehem Alemu started SoleRebels in 2004 with less than $10,000 in capital she raised from family members. She came up with her business idea after she noticed most of the artisans in her community, who made beautiful footwear, remained jobless and poor.
Today, Solerebels has more than 100 employees and nearly 200 local raw material suppliers, and has opened several standalone retail outlets in North America, Europe and Asia. Despite its very humble beginnings, SoleRebels now makes up to $1 million in sales every year, and according to Bethlehem’s projections and expansion plans, the company could be making up to $10 million in sales by 2016.
SoleRebels’ footwear are unique because they are 100 percent made by hand using locally-sourced and recycled materials like old car tyres and hand-loomed organic fabrics. A few years ago, SoleRebels became the first footwear company in the world to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
Bethlehem was selected as the Young Global Leader of the Year 2011 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and was a winner at the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in the same year. Bethlehem and her inspiring success story with SoleRebels have been featured severally on Forbes, the BBC and CNN.
2. Della (Ghana)
Though based in Los Angeles, USA, Dellala is a fashion line that features clothing items and accessories that are handcrafted by a community of over 50 women employees in Ghana. It brands itself as ‘a socially responsible fashion line that provides jobs, education and skills training in the community it works.’
Della’s footwear features locally-made batik prints and designs created by a women cooperative in Ghana’s Volta region. The brains behind Della are US-born Tina Tangalakis, the fashion line’s founder and creative director, and Nii Addotey, a local Ghanaian entrepreneur who co-founded the Della Foundation. Together, they have built a thriving fashion business whose products and pieces are carefully handcrafted using authentic textiles sourced in the Volta Region.
In 2014, Vans, the American apparel manufacturer teamed up with Della for a Capsule Batik shoe collection branded as “Della X Vans”. The collection features six different shoe styles for men and women with accessories offering to match.
The proceeds from the sale of products in the ‘Della X Vans’ collection have been used to support Della’s efforts in offering programs for jobs, education, and skills training in the Volta community that produces its beautiful fashion items.
3. ENZI (Kenya & Ethiopia)
The entrepreneurs behind ENZI are an international team of four long-time friends: Christian Ward (UK), Jawad Braye (USA), Sam Imende (Kenya) and Azariah Mengistu (Ethiopia). The idea for ENZI was conceived when Jawad was visiting Azariah in Ethiopia, where they discovered an abundant supply of premium leather and an emerging footwear industry.
ENZI uses high quality, ethically-raised and environmentally-sustainable Ethiopian leather to create footwear. The Company works with partner manufacturing companies in Ethiopia and Kenya to create stylish and “dressy-casual” shoes by using high quality materials and designs.
ENZI’s brands itself as a company that is “out to break the pessimistic view about Africa as well produce shoes of the best quality in Africa, for the world market.”
In line with its mission, ENZI creates sustainable jobs in the local Kenyan and Ethiopian communities it works with, and contributes immensely to the growth of the African continent while producing quality shoes for trendy men across the world.
Photo credit: buqisi-ruux.com
Buqisi-ruux is an interesting new startup in Africa’s footwear industry that is certainly turning heads. The brand features 4+ inch platform heels in locally-made Ankara print designs that celebrates powerful African women and represents the diversity, vibrancy and boldness that lies within the African continent.
The footwear brand was founded by three young African entrepreneurs – Nuba Elamin and her cousins, Lynn and Tetsi Bugaari.
The name Buqisi-Ruux literally means “Queen of the Village”. ‘Buqisi’ comes from an ancient Egyptian word which means ‘Queen’ and Ruux is short for ‘Rukungiri’, a village in Western Uganda, where Nuba and her cousins come from.
The Buqisi-Ruux brand is inspired by African women and the continent’s art. The brand is proud of its African roots and this is boldly reflected in its name and its recent “Kwanzaa” collection, which features African names, bright colours and loud patterns (which represent the diversity of the African continent).
Buqisi-Ruux is based in Nairobi, Kenya and has a presence in Kampala (Uganda) and Cape Town (South Africa), and also sells its beautiful pieces through its online store. The footwear label plans to expand into more countries within and outside the continent.
5. T.T. Dalk (Nigeria)
T.T Dalk is a Nigerian-based fashion brand that is redefining the African footwear industry. It makes simple, trendy and elegant footwear for both men and women that appeal to a wide range of consumer tastes.
Temilade Osinfade is the founder and Creative Director at T.T Dalk. During his days at the university, he would draw out footwear designs on paper for local shoe craftsmen to make for him. His shoes and slippers caught the attention of other students and that’s how the T.T Dalk footwear business was born.
T.T Dalk is revolutionizing the local footwear business in Nigeria and has been featured on several international fashion shows and runways. He primarily sells his shoes on online stores and a few boutique retail outlets in Nigeria’s major cities.
T.T Dalk is definitely a promising brand to watch in Africa’s fast evolving footwear landscape.
6. Swaheelies (Kenya)
The Swaheelies brand of shoes is fabric footwear made with African cloth. The African prints featured in its designs are sourced from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria, while the shoes are exclusively handcrafted by local craftsmen in Nairobi.
The brain behind this brand is Chania Lackey, a young Kenyan entrepreneur who used to work as a corporate lawyer. She has combined her love for African prints with a longtime passion to design footwear that is functional and comfortable.
The Swaheelies footwear brand considers itself as a social enterprise that empowers Kenyan artisans to grow with each sale of its shoes.
Chania decided to work with artisans from the Kibera area in Nairobi after she realized that the gifted artisans had great workmanship and skills and yet lacked income to take care of their families. Kibera is one of the largest slums in the world and unemployment rates in the area are very high. The sale of each shoe also goes a long way in educating unfortunate children in Kibera.
Swaheelies are available in various collections including: Swaheelies Flip Flops, The Mila “Kikoy” Collection, The African Print “Ankara’ Collection and The African Tritik Collection.
photo credit: HTWshoes.com
Fred’s foray into shoemaking started with an interesting experience he had some years ago. After buying an expensive pair of Pierre Cardin shoes, he wondered why Ghana’s highly talented craftsmen and shoemakers couldn’t make shoes that would compete with foreign brands.
Fred used to be a banker before he decided to enter the business of making high-end luxury shoes. Although he knew little about making shoes, or even fashion, he partnered with a friend to start “Heel The World” or “HTW”, a social business that counters perceptions of the quality and capabilities of Ghanaian craftsmanship.
Working out of his parents’ garage in Accra, Ghana, HTW assembled a team of local craftsmen and shoe makers who apply their talents and produce beautiful and high-quality shoes that can compete with international luxury brands. At the moment, HTW shoes sell between $200 to $400 for each pair.
Fred was one of the 32 Global Shapers in attendance at the World Economic Forum in Ethiopia and he’s working to teach more young Africans about entrepreneurship and leadership. Through his company, HTW, he is providing jobs for local shoemakers, and has supported other young entrepreneurs financially.
8. Haus of Hercules (Nigeria)
HOH is a footwear and accessories brand based in Lagos, Nigeria. It specialises in simple yet stylish and exquisite handmade shoes.
The HOH collection includes loafers, oxfords, brogues, toms and moccasins made from luxurious fabrics such as velvet and soft suede and traditional fabrics like denim, tweed and batik-patterned fabrics.
The brain behind Haus of Hercules is Christopher Jeje, a young Nigerian designer and entrepreneur. He started this impressive footwear business in 2010 with just over $30 in startup capital. Since then, HOH has showcased on fashion runways in Lagos, Accra and London.
9. Passport ADV (Ethiopia)
Passportadv is a fast-growing footwear brand conceived and founded by Ethiopian-born designer and entrepreneur, Mikhayel “MikJagga” Tesfaye in 2009.
Originally, Passport ADV’s shoes were produced in Asia. But after discovering the premium grade of leather and suede that were produced in Ethiopia, the company made a conscious shift in 2012 to fulfill a longtime dream to develop products in Ethiopia, Tesfaye’s native home country.
After countless hours of research, extensive phone calls to different manufacturers around the African continent and several production trips spanning 18 months, the first lot of PassportADV footwear adorned with the “Made In Ethiopia”, label arrived in the USA.
Tesfaye spent the early part of his career learning the craft of design and working for large New York City-based fashion labels like Phat Farm, Eckō Unltd and Rocawear.
Passport ADV’s footwear are predominantly sneakers. The sneakers are distinguished by Tesfaye’s bold use of fish skin, sheepskin and even handwoven textile into his footwear.
The company sells its sneakers in its at its flagship boutique store in Los Angeles, USA. Sneaker prices range from $160 to $325.
photo credit: heseydesigns.com
This is an African-inspired fashion label that makes beautiful handcrafted shoes, apparel and fashion accessories (bags, purses etc.).
The brain behind this fashion label is Odiete Eseoghene, the 28-year-old Nigerian-born fashion entrepreneur, who only graduated from university a few years ago.
Since hitting the market with her creative designs, just after she graduated from university, Odiete has won several awards and hit the spotlight when she designed the sneakers worn by Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, during the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s new uniforms and 30th Anniversary celebration in London.
The young designer started her business with less than $100 in capital, from her savings. Through sheer determination and passion, she has raised about $60,000 in extra capital to further grow her business.
Odiete’s fashion pieces are primarily sold through their site, e-commerce stores and a few retail and distribution outlets, and she’s looking to partner with more retail outlets.
Learn from the success stories of the brands and entrepreneurs in this article. You don’t even need to be an expert in shoemaking and design to become a part of this interesting industry. You could organize local craftsmen or partner with somebody with know-how.
Above all, you need raw passion, creativity, curiousity and determination to succeed in the footwear business, or in any business at all.