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Soweto born entrepreneur fights unemployment with a needle and leather

posted 5 Aug 2012, 14:25 by Mpelembe   [ updated 5 Aug 2012, 14:26 ]

24-year-old Sifiso Dlamini has always been a sneaker fanatic. By the time he was 12 he owned 12 pairs of sneakers. Dlamini is now the founder and CEO of an up and coming street wear brand "Eish Hade", which focuses on designer footwear.

South Africa's slow economic growth and double digits unemployment rate is prompting young creative entrepreneurs to come up with alternative ways of creating employment for themselves.
24-year-old Sifiso Dlamini from Soweto township started his own brand of hand made sneakers to fight unemployment in his area.

Dlamini is the founder and CEO of "Eish Hade", an aspiring street wear brand which manufactures sneakers.

Eish Hade loosely translates as "oops…I'm sorry" and is a term usually used in the townships in South Africa after stepping on someone's toes.

Dlamini has always been a sneaker fanatic. By the time he was 12, he owned 12 pairs of footwear.

But it was his mother who gave him inspiration to turn his passion into business.

"My mother had a sewing machine back when I was in high school so I used to practice stitching. She taught me how to stitch, to make straight stitches. So that's when I decided, I wanna make my own sneakers from scratch and then my mother told that if I wanna make my own sneakers that I should take an old shoe and disassemble it and just tear it apart and get an idea of how its put together, the basics," he said..

In recent months, manufacturing, which contributes about 15 percent to the gross domestic product in South Africa, shed 44,000 jobs during the first quarter, attesting to the struggle businesses face from waning growth in Europe, South Africa's main trading partner.

But Dlamini is not deterred by these numbers, as his business grows from strength to strength. His sneakers have also gained popularity outside South Africa.

"We get orders from here and Africa like Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, even overseas, we've had orders in Los Angeles but the problem is we do these sneakers handmade and it takes a while," he said.

The sneakers are currently priced at about $72 USD. Dlamini says that his next move is to increase capacity for production to meet the growing demand.

"Our challenge is that we are facing is getting machines to increase working production and be able to make bigger volumes so that we can supply everyone who wants sneakers," he said.

In the beginning, Dlamini was running his business informally, without proper administration and book-keeping. He was then discovered by small business mentor Michelle Combrink, who helped him to shape his business portfolio and improve efficiency.

As South Africa and other BRIC countries grapple with cheap Chinese shoe and textile exports, Combrink says the brand is set to flourish thanks to the uniqueness and customer-driven nature of its product.

"What I love about the sneaker industry is that they customize it for you. I will sit and say I would like a pair of sneakers that has these colors, this texture, this look and feel and they will come up with a design just for you and then I know when I go out there, I'm the only one with those sneakers, no one else has got that pair of sneaker,." she said.

Dlamini currently produces up to 30 pairs of sneakers per month.

He is hoping to be able to attract investors to expend his business and brand further in the near future.