How This Township Shoe-Cleaning Business Became a Premium Brand and is Collaborating with Nike and Kiwi

shoe cleaning business lethabo mokoena

Lethabo Mokoena is owner of the shoe cleaning business, Walk Fresh. (Image supplied)

This article forms part of SME South Africa’s Township Entrepreneurship series. In the month of October we will explore the complexities, challenges and success stories of the township entrepreneurship ecosystem.

shoe cleaning business lethabo mokoena

Lethabo Mokoena is owner of the shoe cleaning business, Walk Fresh. (Image supplied)

Lethabo Mokoena, founder of Walk Fresh, aims to change the township narrative by making his shoe-cleaning business’ services not limited to the area he lives in; he’s expanding the business to different towns in Johannesburg and finding innovative ways to keep the customers coming back.

Mokoena who’s from Daveyton says besides cleaning shoes, their business strategy include giving people of eKasi the space to meetup, collaborate, and buy threads. For example, Walk Fresh throws events with a classic township backdrop. The business has also been invited to business events and local soccer tournaments, to exhibit their services.

“We also have our own bi-monthly event ‘Don’t Trip Session’ that we host at the shop which is a music session centered around exploring alternative sounds,” explains Mokoena.

Where it started

Mokoena is a Corporate Communications graduate. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree at the University Of Johannesburg. “Coming back home after graduating and finding some of my childhood friends at the same place I left them, is one of the reasons I chose to take the entrepreneurial route.”

He explains how Walk Fresh was born. “We were chilling at the shops and one of my friends was (busy) cleaning his mother’s sneakers. After realising that I also had sneakers I would like to be cleaned, I asked him why he was not getting paid for the work he was doing. He didn’t think it was a viable business to pursue. It was at that moment when I saw the opportunity.

“The following day I spent money I had budgeted for transport to get to work and bought cleaning materials and then asked some of my friends to work with me.”

“Do work that matters. Pursue business ideas that help solve societal problems and the money will follow.

How his business grew

“In the first month of business we cleaned 46 pairs of footwear; this was in February 2015,” Mokoena says. He decided to put the project on hold so that he could focus and finalise the registration, research, and branding part of the business.

According to Mokoena, from 2015 they used to clean 120 sneakers a month. “We now clean that number in a week. Right now, we are averaging between 500-550 pairs a month. I currently have seven young people employed full-time.”

Walk Fresh has various drop off points where clients’ shoes can be collected from. The drop off points include the areas Braamfontein, Auckland Park, Randburg, Boksburg, Edenvale, Midrand, and Diepsloot.

Collaborations

Mokoena has collaborated with the brands Nike and Kiwi on separate occasions. “Both these collaborations were initiated by the said brands,” he says. “I think (the collaboration happened) because our business was perfectly aligned with their objectives.

“The collaboration with Kiwi helped move my business a step higher, as I was able to secure equipment and the necessary resources that helped our operations to be more efficient. On the other hand, we worked with Nike on one of their brand activations and this sort of helped validate our brand in the market.”

From 2015 they used to clean 120 sneakers a month. “We now clean that number in a week. Right now, we are averaging between 500-550 pairs a month.”

On how the brands found Walk Fresh, Mokoena explains: “Nike got referred to us by one of our clients. Kiwi saw our work on social media and decided to contact us.”

According to Mokoena, he has shelf and rail space in his shop to offer youth-owned clothing brands in his township an opportunity to sell their products.

Challenges

Mokoena says the most common challenge he faces is having to convince people that Walk Fresh is a premium brand. “And that we are not leaving the township. Clients are more often than skeptical of trying us out when they see that we are township-based. But that’s another stereotype we are tackling.

“We are continuously improving and working towards gaining the trust of clients outside the township through quality service and customer care.”

His motivation

Mokoena says driving around townships during the day and seeing how many young black people are sitting around and doing nothing keeps him motivated.

“Sometimes I go to the Stats SA website when I feel like not going to work, then I am reminded of how much works still needs to be done and that’s enough motivation for me.”

He shares the following advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Do work that matters. Our country is in an economical ditch, (and) doing cool stuff will not cut it. Pursue business ideas that help solve societal problems and the money will follow.

“We need you on the ground, wherever you are, that’s the perfect place to start.”

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Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan is a writer with nine years' experience in the media industry. She enjoys blogging and taking part in Twitter chats. You can find her on Twitter @melissa_nel.