I am sure we all remember the famous Imelda Marcos, first lady of the Philippines back in 1965 whose opulence was evident in her love for shoes; all 2,700 of them. At present, her shoes are in a Shoe Museum in the northern city of Marikina in the Philippines. I will neither go into the political side of the Philippines nor am I advocating for you to have 2,700 shoes. What we can do is give you plenty of options and information on where to get the best shoes on the continent designed and produced on the continent, others only produced on the continent and our African designers making strides outside the continent.
Africa is well suited to grow a strong footwear industry considering the amount of raw material, talent and affordable labour available. Furthermore, we have countries like Ethiopia with more than 30 tanneries where businessmen like Zhang Huarong moved some of his Huajian shoe factory operations from China to Ethiopia to produce for brands like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger and Caleres. Robb Young, from the Business of Fashion, reported in October 2016 on how Ethiopia could be the next sourcing hub for Fashion (including the rest of East Africa). He further stated, “Africa is seen by some as the next frontier and, alongside more developed players like South Africa, Kenya and Mauritius, Ethiopia is considered one of the most promising and dynamic fashion manufacturing centres on the continent.”
There is a new wave of African footwear designers proving and showing the world that we can compete with the likes of Europe and the United States when it comes to designing and manufacturing high quality footwear. Consider for a moment the brand Brother Vellies that was founded by Aurora James with the goal of “introducing the rest of the world of her favourite traditional African footwear, while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs within Africa.” Her shoes are handmade in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco. This is just one of the many brands we will be sharing with you for the next 3 months in our Sole Series so we can truly demonstrate how incredible, resourceful and dynamic this continent it (and perhaps inspire you to find these brands and choose to buy from them – say if you found yourself in Ethiopia or Ghana).
You recall us talking about Sawa Shoes here; we will also take a deeper look into their brand and see what else they have to offer us. “The solution for Africa is not charity, and charity, and charity again,” says Mehdi Slimani, founder of Ethiopian-based sneaker label Sawa. “Sawa is living proof that African people can manufacture high-quality finished goods.”
In the Business of Fashion and McKinsey and Company “State of the Fashion Industry Report 2017”, Imran Amed , Founder of BOF and Achim Berg, co leader in the McKinsey’s Global Apparel, Fashion & Luxury Practice stated thus in the forward: “In 2016, the industry is projected to reach a staggering $2.4 trillion in total value. If it were ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP, the global fashion industry would represent the world’s seventh largest economy. And yet, for some observers, fashion is still regarded as simultaneously frivolous and indulgent.”
The solution for Africa is not charity, and charity, and charity again,” says Mehdi Slimani, founder of Ethiopian-based sneaker label Sawa
We are all aware that fashion and footwear industries can grow the African economy. African culture is making its mark more and more through these industries and globally seen in Africa-inspired designs. Fashion is definitely big business with the combined apparel and footwear market in Sub Saharan Africa estimated to be worth US$31 billion according to Euromonitor International. Emanuela Gregorio stated in her June 2016 article entitled “Fashion and Textile industries can grow African economies” that “it is important to look at these industries through a value-chain approach to see the contribution that a “made in Africa” brand can make to African economies.” With the fashion industry expected to double in the next 10 years generally up to US$5 trillion annually. So what are we doing to contribute to that growth?
For the next 3 months, we want to really delve into the footwear industry and find out who the brands are that are making strides, what we can learn from them and of course look into what is involved in the footwear industry. We will start by taking by taking a look back, way back into history and see just how footwear began on this continent. How did it look like back then? What can we learn from it and perhaps be inspired by it? What is involved in the process of shoe-making and what about 3-D shoes? I am sure you recall the Fashion and Tech Design Series we did; we want to provide more snippets of that to identity just how tech and footwear come together.
In this day and age, sustainability is key in all industries and footwear is not immune to such demands. Just last month in our Athleisure Series, we took a look into “Eco-Athleisure: Brands On The Green Side Of The Athleisure Trend”. Concerns of sustainability in footwear stem from the issues of resistance to composting, being able to break down, that designers are grappling with in the hope to reduce the negative environmental impact of shoes. Recyclable shoes are here with us in an effort to curb such negative impacts. One designer who has taken on this challenge is Aly Khalifa and his LYF (Love your Footprint) shoe brand that was founded in 2012 where shoes were created to be taken apart and remade with losing quality and without using destructive adhesives. Think of his shoes like lego pieces. He states that “To be truly sustainable you have to design for disassembly. If you put glue into the mix you cause problems in the reuse.”
We want to introduce you to other sustainable brands like O’Liberté, a sustainable brand that supports worker’s rights in sub-Saharan Africa. They believe fundamentally in empowerment, transparency and doing right. They make every pair in Addis Ababa and in September 2013, became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified TM footwear manufacturing factory.
The next 3 months, in our Sole Series, will be quite a journey into the footwear industry in Kenya and the continent at large. We not only want you to be aware of the incredible brands both locally and on the continent that we can begin to choose over second-hand or even foreign brands. Africa is able to compete just as well and if we can guide you to see and believe in the continent, then we have done our job. We will also find and give you, upcoming footwear designers or present designers, a look into the industry, the business end, and perhaps inspire you to reach higher in your goals. There is so much opportunity in the country and on the continent for footwear and we can’t wait to share what we have found.
Side Note: As we, Kenyans, approach Election Day on the 8th of August, we pray and hope that all will be well, that we will exercise our democratic and civil duty in voting and be at peace with one another. There is so much more we can do to build this beautiful nation, let’s protect it as much as we can. So happy voting ladies and gents and have a great month!
Author: Wanjiku N. M | Editor and Founder of TDS | Twitter: @WanjikuNM