When one is asked to list their ‘wants’ in life in terms of economy, footwear will be in the list of many.
Did you know that majority of our footwear in Africa is imported? However, it seems that won’t be for long, as young South African enteprenuers launched their unique footwear label ‘Mama Kea’.
Sicelo Mabuza along with his business partner, Khulani Sikhosana, are also planning to empower young people in their community through their brand. Sicelo Mabuza tells, us how their brand emerged in the business industry and also what has kept their business going through the COVID 19 pandemic.
TR: Thank you for your time, why did you thought of naming your brand Mama Kea?
SC: The brand name stems from the words ‘Mama’ meaning mother, and ‘Kea’ which means home where the heart, soul and spirit is.
“The brand represents the unconditional, undying motherly love, comfort and warmth given to us by nature”
TR: Your brand focuses mainly on hand woven shoes and hats. Why did you select such production?
SC: There was a gap in the footwear market in SA, the research proved that about 73% of all footwear are imported and 90% of them are from China.
On the other hand, our team had a rare ancient African skill of weaving shoes, and that brought about the business of woven shoes that are with innovative patterns. Our business was initially known for by our innovative shoes which later led to the business to diversify in order to have a cash-cow product that can support our star products. Nevertheless, it was also our customers’ request to have more products that can complement their lovely Mama Kea shoes and look more unique.
TR: What story does your production tell?
SC: The designs are widely inspired by the rich and diverse African culture, as well as nature, using nylon and rubber, and other synthetic material. In some of the designs, a set of Pan-African colours are incorporated.
These colours are red, green and black, which were founded by Marcus Garvey. We use art and design as a revolutionary and political instrument to inspire black initiative. Our designs are symbolic of African culture.
Another example, we use colours adopted from Khoisan and vegetation.
TR: The production team involves people of all generation, what does it mean working hand in hand with your elders’ king and what lessons did you learnt from them?
SC: Mama Kea is an integration of the young and old, our team still consist of youth and elders.
The great thing with the Mama Kea team is that it consists of a long living experience of the weaving skill and business experience. The elders are the veterans on the shoes creation department while the youth use their innovative creative juices to come up with new designs/products and have to manage the business.
The big lessons learnt working with different generations is that as the manager of the business you have to understand the fact that both generations do not reason the same. Their drive is also different, while the youth is still eager to grow their ideas and get their creativity to the world, the elders love and trust their craft while they are mainly motivated by the money to feed their families. Also, you learn to practice your patience, at some point the speed of production cannot be the same for both generations.
“We use art and design as a revolutionary and political instrument to inspire black initiative…”
TR: How has your community benefited from your brand?
SC: We have, by far, shown the world that we are capable of coming up with innovative products that represent us.
Our people are able to buy products that holds their identity and preserve their culture and skills.
Also, we have done a lot of collaborations with other brands in SA we have managed helping some, small business that are yet to be recognized. We have also trained more than 20 individuals to have the skills and other business-related skills.
We are currently working on creating an academy that can allow us to transfer the skill from generations to generations. There are other young people with the crochet skills that we have taken under our wings in order to be part of the production team.
TR: Can you tell us about the Shandis Training Programme?
SC: The Homegrown Shandis training program is an academic training program of shoe creation that we have been planning for the last 2 years.
Under Homegrown Shandis, there are multiple brands collaborated to create the platform that had allowed a lot of collaborative projects.
There are 2 brands that creates shoes (Mama Kea and Pex) under Homegrown Shandis. After 2 years of planning a Mama Kea academy, we later realized that it would be feasible to make the program a Homegrown Shandis program and both brands will render their skills in training youth how to create and design shoes.
In SA, the footwear industry is recently booming and the skill of making shoes is quite rare.
Most brands are outsourcing the manufacturing outside the country or buy existing products in countries like China and rebrand them. Thus, it made sense for us to use the minimum resources and the skills to help youth with feasible skills to use them for employment of starting their own businesses.
The level of unemployment in SA had been increasing and recently (due to COVID-19) a lot of jobs had been lost. It looks like a right time to introduce a curriculum that will offer skills that can used to make a living with.
TR: Can the Mama kea’s shoes be worn in any season even during rainy season?
SC: Current shoes cannot be worn in rainy seasons; they are mainly designed for summer or spring seasons. Mama kea’s shoes can be worn with socks during the cold seasons, however, cannot be worn on extreme cold days. The uniqueness about the Mama Kea shoes, the quick to dry when wet and are breathable.
TR: Who are your major clients, and your country is currently underlockdown and other African countries. How do you manage to reach your clients?
SC: Our target audience is mainly working class going to middle class. People who are between the ages of 20-50 years old. People who are most likely driving, who love to be exclusive and are outgoing.
Our products are appealing to tourists and to the international market. We have obtained a lot international customers through social media.
Now that we are underlockdown, our sales had dropped when it started, mainly because it was level 5, and no one was outgoing.
When the lockdown was lifted, customers slowly came back because we never stopped with our marketing content, in fact we increased the quality and consistency of our marketing material and distribution of content.
Social media worked on our favour, we mainly made and still making most of our sales digitally.
A lot of sales are coming from Facebook followed by Instagram. Others are from our loyal customers who have been buying Mama Kea consistently
TR: Currently what are you working on as a brand?
SC: We are currently working on new bespoke designs, we are also prototyping our new products that are fusing leather, suede and weaving.
Due to the lockdown, we have lost our store (Homegrown Shandis) and now we working on projects that will allow us to open more stores in around South Africa. We are also completing our academic research framework in order to prototype our curriculum or formal training program
TR: Lastly which fashion shows are you hoping to showcase your brand at if given chance
SC: London Fashion Week & New York Fashion Week
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