Traditional Zulu 'Imbadada' sandals  reinvented
Traditional Zulu 'Imbadada' sandals reinvented
iFele Founder Reggi Xaba. Styling by Derrick Mhlongo. Picture: Nicholas Billington
iFele Founder Reggi Xaba. Styling by Derrick Mhlongo. Picture: Nicholas Billington

It has been a big year for Durban based luxury footwear brand iFele. 

The sandals, inspired by the traditional amaZulu’s “imbadada” sandals were seen on the SA Fashion Week runway in Johannesburg as part of the Woolworth’s Style By SA showcase. Worn with patterned socks by AKJP, the modernised shoes stood out and were a hit with many. Shoemaker and the brand’s founder Reggi Xaba spoke to us.

Tell us about yourself? I am based in Durban where our home and design studio are but I spend a lot of time in Nseleni, Richards Bay where we produce our shoes at the Umfolozi College campus factory. I live in a house full of girls (my wife, three daughters and a Labrador called Rosie). I collect contemporary African art and I love the natural world. I’m very curious about people and culture including my own Zulu culture and I like to make the world beautiful.

How did you get into the shoe business and become a shoe designer? My 21 years in this industry started with a Clothing Design Diploma from Natal Technikon and a first job at Bata as a trainee footwear designer where I was taught shoemaking and the design process for shoes. After two years, I left to pursue a career in retail as a buyer for Woolworths and later Truworths. Ten years later, I went back into design as an independent contractor for Carducci footwear and other brands. In 2005, I returned to my first love which is shoemaking and eventually founded Zetu Shoes. We are a design and production company with a focus on developing shoe production in rural KZN.

Who and what inspires the iFele sandals collection? iFele is a luxury African footwear brand inspired by authentic African aesthetics including the Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa and others. We create these in rural KZN. iFele explores the idea of an African urban nomad who is interested in various cultures on the continent and expresses them in his dress in a contemporary world. The brand draws inspiration from hand crafters who make traditional pieces and geometric motifs that are unique to African craft and art. iFele is about us, proud Africans in the urban environment.

How would you describe an iFele sandal? Luxury contemporary footwear hand-crafted for urban nomads. Their design pays sufficient homage to our heritage to make one feel connected to Africa and are modern enough to fit into any lifestyle globally. In the high street of big cities and outdoors in nature. In casual and high fashion environments.

How do you decide on colours for your sandals and what is it made of? Research informs me on what is trending and we select our colours according to the brand identity. iFele must look simple and naïve yet bold, geometric and contemporary at the same time. They are bright and happy and made locally with the best quality materials - genuine cow leather on the upper and the sock with synthetic material trims for colour and embellishment.

What makes a good shoe? Appealing (beautiful) design, good fit and quality materials.

What has been your career highlight so far? Designing for our two brands iFele and Num-Num is a daily highlight of my life. Working under established brands with their own ethos and direction can be creatively limiting and, as I have learned the hard way, a very risky platform for building a business. The reception the brand iFele is getting in the market is also very uplifting but I can’t take all the credit for that. I work with a talented team of professionals and creatives who share this vision and execute on it.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming shoe designers and brands? There is no substitute for hard work and your uniqueness. Keep doing what you do and keep doing you. In this day and age, it’s not optional to study hard. Every artistic expression must be backed by sound intellectual work and technical ability, otherwise it will not be sustainable. Read, read and read some more. Even if it’s only on the Internet.

What’s your personal motto? I don’t have a coined single motto. But I believe in love and I love to see beauty in the man-made and natural worlds.

Where can one buy the iFele sandals? iFele is available in selected Woolworths stores and Woolworths online, The Space and The Space man stores in Johannesburg and Durban.

* Connect with iFele on Instagram @iFele_za