Shoes, advice and bonding

BEAUTIFUL, bubbly and highly creative. These are just a few words that describe entrepreneur Nthabiseng Keroane, whose knitted footwear business has taken the fashion industry by storm.

BEAUTIFUL, bubbly and highly creative. These are just a few words that describe entrepreneur Nthabiseng Keroane, whose knitted footwear business has taken the fashion industry by storm.

On entering Keroane's business in Jabulani, Soweto, one is greeted by a colourful display of shoes, boots, flops and furry slippers.

Comfortably seated at the end of the room, which she has turned into her working area, the energetic Keroane is busy at work.

"I have already finished a pair of slippers while waiting for you. I took a day off to enjoy the soccer, but here I am working again. I guess I've gotten so used to working that taking a day off feels strange for me," she says, laughing loudly.

Keroane, who learnt the unique craft by chance almost 10 years ago, says her shoes became so popular and were in such demand that she opened a school in Mapetla, Soweto, to teach others the skill.

"I felt that instead of buying shoes from me, they can also become manufacturers and make money for themselves."

The word spread and hundreds of women, some from as far as Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho, came to learn the craft.

Keroane has inspired many women, include television actress Shoki Sebotsane, who also learned the craft and has since added the fabulous shoes to her fashion label.

What is it that makes her shoes unique? I asked.

"I get inspired by people and almost everything around me. I love shoes and whenever I look at a shoe I think of a way to make it look different. Interestingly, it took a pair of plastic slippers I bought from an old lady to discover my unique talent," she says.

"I wore those shoes and a friend loved them. I went back to the old lady and asked her to teach me how to make the shoes. I bought the material and we started the lessons. After about two lessons she disappeared. When I realised she was not coming back, I decided to teach myself. I spent two months practising until I perfected the skill," says Keroane.

She says her school, which is open to women, men and young people aspiring to become entrepreneurs, has become a place of comfort to many of her students.

"Most of the women who came to my school were troubled emotionally and needed someone to talk to. Apart from teaching them how to make shoes, I started counselling them.

"We talk about our problems and advise each other. The shoes are also a form of therapy for us. Once you start making a shoe, nothing else matters and by the time the day is over, you have finished a couple of shoes and that gives us satisfaction and a purpose to live.

"We are one big happy family. We may not drive big cars, but we are making a living and providing for our families," she says.

Keroane's passion for helping others has prompted her to start a bursary scheme for students who cannot afford to pay for lessons.

"Every year I train 10 women for free, as my way of giving back to the community.

"My focus now is the youth, particularly those who can't afford to study further. I train them so that they can use the skill to earn money and save for their own education."

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