You don’t really understand how uneven the sidewalks of Nairobi are until you have to traverse the city the day after leg day. Heel wearers are often lauded as brave or denigrated as utterly disrespectful to the shoe craftsmanship for this very reason. While flats are the go-to armour, they can be a bit of a let-down. Too flat, and every pebble will be felt. God forbid it should rain; that pair is done for! So when we hear that there’s a shoe out there that is all about protecting our poor soles, we take notice. The fact that they are made in collaboration with the continent, now that gets them a feature. Here’s Thando’s! *insert jazz hands*
Taffi Ayodele got her first light bulb moment whilst interning in South Africa in 2012. Being a true New Yorker, she had come with a $10 pair of Dr. Scholl’s Fast Flats as a comfortable substitute to high heels during her commutes. Foldable flats that could easily fit in a handbag quickly grabbed the attention of her friends and colleagues alike. So much so, that one offered to buy them for $100. Taffi realised that they weren’t available in S.A and upon asking her husband, Jibolu ‘J.G’ Ayodele, to search in Nigeria as well, they realised there was a demand, but no corresponding supply. Having specialized in international business and entrepreneurship, Taffi recognized the business opportunity they had discovered and Thando’s launched in 2014 in Nigeria. Thando is the Xhosa word for love and they’ve found different ways to emulate this meaning throughout their brand:
Love for your Feet
With comfort and convenience in mind, Thando’s created Africa’s first foldable ballerina flat that can fit in a drawer, car glove compartment or a tiny handbag. The insole is made from a unique memory foam that takes on the individual’s inimitable foot shape for the best fit. It also absorbs the impact from walking for full protection. The outsole comes in a split sole deign to enhance durability. The back is tapered to increase comfort while the lining is breathable and moisture wicking. All these perks are incorporated in a lightweight shoe that is machine washable and comes in a reusable carrying pouch.
Love for African Talent
The fabric used in the creation of Thando’s is all sourced from Nigeria, the home of their brand. They made the decision to source directly from the women in fabric trade in order to empower the women in the fabric trade. Their first purchase was made in the bustling and chaotic Balogun Market in Lagos; popular for its wide variety of fabric vendors. From here, they realised that they could empower even more artists that weren’t getting the recognition they deserved.
These NYU Alums decided to crowd-source designs from African designers to create a platform that has a global reach. The idea to integrate a crowdsourcing model with the products was in a bid to incorporate Africa in the design. In addition, it would be an avenue for African artists to communicate issues their communities face. But how do you find said artists? The duo implemented a distinctive model that encouraged African artists and influencers from across the continent to submit designs to inspire their flats. Because the shoes are co-designed, the artists share in the profits/royalties from each purchase of the shoes that use their respective art.
Love for #TeamThandos
Crowdsourcing doesn’t end with the artists and influencers. Once designs are submitted to the platform, the Thandos fans and followers’ community can vote on their favourite. From the tallied votes, they can then select the flats designs that will be featured in their next collection. For example, their inaugural BTS (Behind The Scenes) Collection was inspired by the designers of Thando’s 5 piece line of foldable ballerina flats. Each shoe is considered an artistic representation of the designer. These include:
- The Fierce Walk by Leila Lopes – Miss Universe 2011 from Angola
- The Class Act by Zikhona Sodlaka – South African actress and host of BET’s Top Actor SA
- The Kach Me if You Can by Kanayo Ebi – Nigerian celebrity stylist
- The Fritzwa by Fritzwa – Sierra Leonean/Ghanaian musician
- The First Kiss by the Ayodele’s – A reflection of the Co-founders love for each other and love for the sole.
Love for Limited Edition
This has got to be just as important, if not surpassing, the emphasis on comfort. If you’re tired of buying shoes that feel like uniform, with almost every third person owning a pair, this is for you. When it comes to Thando’s, there are no re-releases. When a shoe is sold out, that line is complete and will not be making a comeback. They make limited numbers of shoes per styles per collection to make every shopper feel like they are receiving something special. So if you do fall in love with a pair, you’re highly advised to pre-order or scoop them up before they’re gone.
Love for the Community
Social responsibility is important to the Thando’s brand. For starters, they have committed to donating 3% of company profits to organizations that support youth entrepreneurship in Africa. They also partner with NGOs that address issues that plague African communities. One of their most recent collaboration is with SESOR Africa. It’s an organisation that provides sustainable relief and advocates for survivors of emergencies. So far, they have provided relief materials to over 2,000 internally displaced person in Nigeria. Through The Akonmi Collection, SESOR gets donations to aid families affected by floods in Benue and Lagos states. Akonmi means “Water Hero” in Yoruba and the print used was inspired by the heavy rain and floods in Nigeria. It’s the zigzag patterns the rain drops form on aluminium roof tops and the bright umbrellas that pop open to provide some shelter from the rain. Thando’s have dedicated $1.50 for every pair of shoe sold from retail purchase and $0.50 from wholesale purchase. Once the total proceeds come in, SESOR works with Thando’s to procure relief items to these identified communities.
It’s a classic story of supply to meet demand. Nevertheless, the Ayodele’s gave the narrative layers by matching their business savvy with their ambition to promote African artists and their mission to impact communities delivering these designs. All executed in a way that incorporates fashion in a thoughtful and comfort driven way. While they are currently shipping in Nigeria and North America, there are plans to expand to Kenya and South Africa. We can’t wait to get our hands on a pair!