When Ashley Ibrahim who is a Malawian national lost his job as a shoemaker in South Africa following a pay dispute, he decided to start his own shoe making shop in downtown Johannesburg. Ibrahim named his firm Ashley Shoe Company.
According to Ibrahim, at the time he was working for the company, he was earning R300 (K15000) 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 (K350,000) a month,” he told a South African newspaper.
Ashley and his employees are using just their hands, a sewing machine, and a grinder, but each month they make over 60 pairs of leather shoes which they deliver directly to their customers by taxis.
Visiting their crammed workshop, four floors up King Spot, the paper noted a litter of bits of rubber, nails, leather cut-outs and plastic bags filled with finished products ready for delivery.
“This is our haven. This place and its mess feeds our families,” Ashley 26, told the paper with pride. 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 other Malawians and a few South Africans 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. But they all contribute towards the R1600 (K80,000) rental charge.
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 (K15000). 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 (K200,000) 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,” the paper quoted Robson.