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Shoemaking feeds men's families as business booms in Joburg

By Lindile Sifile | 2016-11-12 07:23:00.0

In the middle of a noisy, congested and stuffy King Spot building in Johannesburg's Small Street is a group of men who make a living from crafting sandals from old tyres.

Using just their hands, a sewing machine and a grinder, each month they churn out over 60 pairs of leather shoes which they deliver directly to their customers by taxis.

Their crammed workshop, four floors up King Spot, is littered with bits of rubber, nails, leather cut-outs and plastic bags filled with finished products ready for delivery.

The room is a mess. There is hardly any space to move around.

"This is our haven. This place and its mess feeds our families," Malawian national Ashley Ibrahim, 26, said with pride.

Ibrahim started the Ashley Shoe company last year after losing his job as a shoemaker following a pay increase dispute with his employer. At the time, he was earning R300 a week. "I couldn't sit and fold my arms. I knew I had a gift of making shoes and I'm a hard worker. I now make up to R7000 a month," he said.

Using the knowledge and contacts from his old job, in December last year Ibrahim started making shoes from his apartment and would sell them on the streets of Johannesburg.

But it was not easy to trade on the streets as Metro police often raided hawkers' stalls for illegal trading. He escaped arrests at least three times but his merchandise was not spared by police. "I then changed my business module and started selling my shoes through my brother in Durban. I would send him 20 pairs fortnightly," he said.

As his business started showing growth, early this year Ibrahim started roping in his countrymen and a few locals to help him run the business. There are now 10 people in the business, but some have branched out to make their own shoes using the same workshop.

They contribute towards the R1600 rental. The group buy old tyres to make shoe soles and leather for straps. It can take up to four hours to craft one pair, which is sold for about R300.


Julius Robson, 28, has been able to feed his family of five since he joined the group three months ago after Ibrahim saw his products on social media. He makes up to R4000 a month. "It might look [a] little to some people but it's a lot of money to us. We are able to provide for our families. Life is tough as it is in Johannesburg," Robson said.