A long walk to create sneaker brand
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ON THE day before Mandela Day about 12 years ago, Mpumi Mda was sitting in a room with old friends thinking about the then sickly former president.
“He was still in hospital at the time and we had thought about how to live a Mandela Day beyond July 18. As a daughter of an ex-vet, I was also thinking about what legacy I would be leaving. As youth we have been given the baton but what have we done with the freedom,” said Mda.
It was during that brainstorming session that the idea to create a sneaker brand came to be.
The idea remained on paper for five years before Mda revisited it.
“Every single holiday I would go back home and my mom would remind me of the idea. It was something I didn’t want to entertain for the longest time but my mother held on to the idea so deeply when I told her that she would not let it go for those five years.”
After Mda decided to leave her job, she went back to her idea but did not know where to begin.
“I didn’t know anyone who owned a sneaker brand or anyone who was trying to create a design from scratch.”
While she was trying to get the idea off the ground, she sought the help of various people in the marketing and financial field who loved the idea and wanted to come on board with her.
“In my mind I thought I had to patent this product because at that time I was protecting it with my entire existence because anybody could take it and run. It turns out all I had to do was trademark, while patenting costs hundreds of thousands and trademarking is a few thousands. I started researching it and after finding the name to be available, the people who were keen to work with me, shelved me.”
During that researching time, Mda started to read the book Long Walk to Freedom with a fine-tooth comb. She also read up on the Rivonia Trial and zoomed in on this concept that she had.
“I wrote it all down and left it. One day I went to church and it was during the week of the conference ‘Dream Week’. The speaker said ‘if a vision is implanted in you by God it won’t leave you’. He also said that vision was about more than you. I resonated with that so much and that led me to start telling people about it.”
She was encouraged by her brother to not rely on people and work on the idea herself. She registered her business, registered the trademark after finding a job and brought Long Walks by African Minions to life.
“That was the first time I believed that I could when my brother told me to do it. I researched sneaker designers in South Africa for a full year and I wasn’t getting anything. I found a school of design but they couldn't help because they did not design sneakers.”
As Mda continued to do more research she came across businessman and sneaker designer Dwayne Edwards as well as his online series Lace Up that saw designers given a task to redesign sneakers for celebrities. She eventually linked up with a designer from that competition who agreed to help her with the design which ended up costing her a fortune for the sole and the upper design.
“Sometimes, the things that are necessary to happen are not always the easiest.”
In South Africa, you can create a sneaker prototype for about R7000 from an already existing design and mould. After a year of failed attempts to find a factory to manufacture the original design Mda wanted, a connection put her in touch with the CEO of a factory in Portugal who believed in the brand that she was trying to create, he agreed to create the prototype.
“It took 18 months and five prototype revisions later, to finally have our shoe… the perfect Long Walks that took me on a real long walk of self-discovery and learning that I was never prepared for.”
After spending hundreds of thousands of Rands, going through several shaky partnerships, changing jobs, seeking external validations, the pandemic and consistent obstacles and delays every step of the way, Mda has now finally released her sneakers to the world.
“Nobody is going to work as hard as you in your own business. If it’s your baby and you are passionate about it but you keep expecting other people to put in the same amount of effort it will never happen. You will be the hardest working person because it is your dream, your vision, your passion.”
African Minions is about breaking moulds and creating your own lane. Mda said the sacrifice she has made can be a lesson to the next person.
“I had chosen to launch it on April 27 April because of the significance of the story of the brand, and it represented a day where it was true freedom for me because I was letting go of my fear and finally being free enough to expose this 12-year journey to the world and opening myself to the rejection or acceptance of it.”
The sneaker brand is inspired by global struggle icons like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, OR Tambo, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Junior.
“Every line of our sneakers will tell a story. The concept of a shoe is used as a storytelling medium for some of the most influential and motivating human triumphs, together with the special design elements that tells a story with every stick, all of which sets Long Walks apart from all the other sneaker brands in the market,” said Mda.
The first sneaker line is titled The Struggle, encouraging people to 'wear' their protest, wear their Africa and wear their nostalgia symbolically with their shoes.
“When we try to be like everybody else, we lose the plot. But anything that has come out of the soil of SA that has been authentically African has done great. You attract the right people when you are yourself.”
The story of Long Walks has been unravelling on the African Minions social media platforms. Mda has opened for pre-orders until the end of June, selling the premium sneakers at a discounted rate, limited to 1500 pairs.
“We are hoping to have a major bash when the shoes arrive. This is so powerful because South Africans have been part of this from inception.”
For more information on the sneakers people can visit Mda’s website www.africanminions.com