African Handmade Shoes

African Handmade Shoes” is a start-up created by one young guy, Paul Burggraf, from Lugano in 2013.The company fairly employs thirty shoemakers from Cape Town, South Africa, to produce shoes (espadrilles) sold worldwide. It is an innovative project as well as a supportive business idea that creates a bridge between South Africa and Ticino, Switzerland.

The idea is very simple: producing handmade shoes in Africa and sell them online in Switzerland and worldwide. In addition, the project is characterized by an ethical attitude that provides fair wages and optimal operating conditions for the thirty artisans working in the Cape Town laboratory, differentiating it from other shoe manufacturers who exploit their workers through poor working conditions and with low wages. Nevertheless, “African Handmade Shoes” are fully aware of these problems and they are ready to make the difference.

In 2007, Paul Burggraf made his first of many trips to South Africa. Since then, he has fallen in love with South Africa – a colourful country, incredible, so full of potential.
The idea of “African Made Shoes” was born through meeting Arnold – a young South African craftsman who ran a small shoe shop. Paul was immediately interested and impressed by his work and his products. He realized there was serious potential for fashion export. Thus “African Handmade Shoes” was born.

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They started with a Facebook page collecting orders and received good feedback. They subsequently figured out the brilliance of their idea. They now have a thirty-man strong workshop in Cape Town, a website through which the product reaches around the world and a logistics base in Ticino: https://africanhandmadeshoes.com/.

The main sales channel is e-commerce, however, it is also possible to find temporary stores during festivals and events such as the “Locarno Film Festival” and so on. Currently there are a few stores in Ticino and Switzerland, it is even in the most prestigious Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich.

Transparency and fairness are very important; in spite of the few resources available,
social media has been key to make them known. Through these channels they have decided to completely document what was going on in the workshop of Cape Town. In short, the complete manufacturing process is documented for final consumers to see.
Pride in their craftsmanship, dignity and self-worth in their employees, respect for workers, earn a living wage, multicultural and happiness are values important for the brand. Workers are simply local people, they are friends and they are also neighbors.
Trusting workers is important to get maximum quality for the final product.
They have also helped to maintain a trade, that of the shoemaker, which globally is disappearing. Those who learn this profession with them can support themselves in the future. In the African social reality, in which education and apprenticeship training are lacking, giving people a future by learning a job is a huge added value.

Finally, they believe in African culture as well as the promotion and growth of the African economy. Therefore, the company is conducting a competition for local entrepreneurs called “Startaboom”: Three projects of local entrepreneurs are presented on the website of “African Handmade Shoes”. The public chooses what business will get financial support by voting on the website. The entrepreneur who receive the most votes will get the 10% of 2015 profit of “African Handmade Shoes” in order to help the project grow.

The success of “African handmade Shoes” is very simple: The colours and fabrics of these shoes make a product with a long cultural history, tradition known globally. Companies like these show us that business does not have to about profits only, but can be economically successful by helping to solve social problems and making people in Switzerland and South Africa proud of what they do.

Here a few links for more information:

Video presentation
Founder speech about local entrepreneurs (new start-up)
One of the three local entrepreneurs

Author: Riccardo Bonfitto, Master in International Business student, 2016