Over the years, Malawians have been accustomed to imported shoes, particularly from renowned labels such as Pierre Cardin, Boss, Gucci, Paul Smith, Versace, Polo, and Giorgio Armani.
However, the trend is fast changing with locals displaying their entrepreneurial flair and crafting shoes in their backyards to sell in the streets.
The shoes have become a hit owing to their durability and designs, from men’s boots to women’s sandals and high heels.
Blossoming shoe designer Gracious Kabango is set to take the fashion industry by storm with his outstanding shoe designs.
He has added shoe designing to his artistic line that includes fabric designing and necklace making.
A recent visit by On the Arts to his base along Chidzanja Road in Lilongwe established that he is just an inch away from landing his life-long opportunity of taking his artistic works to the next level.
Kabango, who comes from Chanza Village, Traditional Authority Masasa in Ntcheu, has designed shoes and handbags for several people in the country.
“I spend the whole day making shoes and it has been a journey of self-discovery,” he says.
He is optimistic saying: “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. I can see the hand of God lifting me up after struggling to establish myself in the fashion industry.
“So far, a lot of customers have shown willingness to buy my commodities. For now, I am planning to invade institutions to get new clients.”
Kabango says although things have started bearing fruits, his artistic journey was never short of challenges.
“I started this career in 2012 as a shoe repairer and people thought I had made a wrong decision because of my age. Most of them regarded shoe repairing as a career for old people. However, I did not give up,” adds the 24-year-old designer.
The artist says he was repairing shoes because his family could not afford to give him some of the things he needed.
However, he got addicted to shoes and has always wanted to make his own shoes instead of buying.
“At one point during my shoe repairing trade, I decided to advance my skills by, among things, discovering how I can come up with a pair of shoes. Luckily, I managed to get new techniques on structuring shoes,” he recalls.
“Nothing is a waste until you intentionally decide so. If your yard is full of used materials such as old tyres and calendars ready for destruction, then you are sitting on gold because those are raw materials.”
Kabango’s products leave one amazed as his work does not only give waste a second life, but also adds value to fashion.
In addition, he uses chitenje in designing techniques aimed at maintaining and promoting a traditional identity.
He says he feels accomplished seeing a customer putting on any of his products.
Speaking about his shoe designs, Kabango says they are durable and they are not affected by weather.
“His products are good and durable compared to some cheap imported shoes,” echoes Mercy Majawa of Chilinde Township in Lilongwe.
Moving forward with his artistic journey, Kabango wants to share his skills with fellow youths because he believes the career is lucrative and has a future as his customer base is usually made up of students, people having weddings, engagements and many others in society.
Commenting on how Kabango is using artistry to earn a living, economist Collen Kaluwa said this is progressive and encouraging.
“This is a good endeavour. It is indeed high time the youth explore other ways of making money other than waiting to be employed.
“It is good to see how unemployed youths have shifted the focus to informal sector, often learning new skills to survive under the harsh economic conditions,” he said in an interview.