“The shoe one is wearing tells a thousand words,” goes one saying, underscoring how one’s shoe is often more than just a fashion statement, but a status symbol too.
For many years, Zimbabweans had been accustomed to imported shoes, particularly renowned labels such as Boss, Gucci and Georgio Armani.
But the trend is fast changing with locals increasingly displaying their entrepreneurial flair and crafting shoes in backyard industries and for sale in the streets.
The shoes have become a hit owing to their durability and different designs, from men’s boots to women’s sandals and high heels.
The fact that prices, ranging from $25 to about $40 for high-cut formal shoes with sandals going for as little as $5 — are however negotiable have also inspired many to dash for them. There is no negotiation of prices on shoes sold in established shops on the formal market.
“People have lost faith in the ‘fong-kong’ shoes imported from China which were not durable. We have grabbed the opportunity and filled the void and our home-made shoes are now in high demand,” said Gabriel Moyo, who sells the shoes along Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare.
The shoes are made from genuine leather and acclimatise well to the local climate and weather.
“We take our raw materials such as cattle hide from farms where we pay the owners low fees and then we buy a chemical that we use to process the skin into genuine leather,” said Elvis Gumene who manufactures and sells the shoes.
“These shoes are long-lasting and durable; no blisters develop because they have poles unlike plastic shoes which tend to be affected by the general outlook of the weather,” he said.
Gumene said the heels were made from wheel tyres hence their durability. Many lives have been transformed by the high demand for the shoes.
“On a good day I can pocket as much as $100 when the municipal police are not harassing us,” said a female vendor who refused to be named.
Shoe vendors have also resorted to doing business under the cover of darkness to evade the menace of the municipal police.
“I spend the whole day making shoes and I get into town at around 5pm to sell them because we have to evade the municipal policy,” said another vendor, Trynos Mhofu.
Shoes imported from China and sold in local shops at very low prices have attracted disdain and drawn the ire of the public because of their cheap quality and lack of durability.
Phrases such as “best before wear”, “one-minute shoes” and “you will return to buy another one tomorrow” have become popular, leading to the general decline in demand for rexine shoes from the Asian country.
Genuine and renowned labels, especially those made of genuine leather, are expensive and therefore out of reach for many fashion-conscious locals, hence the high demand for the home-made shoes.
So popular have these easily identifiable shoes become that a lot of people in the city centre could be seen wearing them. The shoe business has also improved the livelihoods of the manufacturers.
Alfred Duri of Glen Norah, popularly known as “Shoe Doctor” in the neighbourhood, is reputed for making good, durable shoes that are in high demand.
“My fame rests on solid personal achievements. I have managed to send my children to school and many people come here to buy the shoes for resale in town. It is common to come across people wearing shoes that I have made. I know them because I have a unique way of making them,” said the Shoe Doctor.
Economists say such people’s entrepreneurial flair could be exploited to establish a proper industry that remits taxes to the government while creating employment and as such, the shoemakers required support.
Though it has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in relation to vast demand, a shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect the human foot.
Shoes are also used as an item of decoration. The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with appearance originally being tied to function.
Fashion trends have often dictated many design elements, such as whether shoes have very high heels or flat ones. Contemporary footwear varies widely in style, complexity and cost.
Basic sandals may consist of only a thin sole and simple strap. High-fashion shoes may be made of very expensive materials in complex construction and sell for thousands of dollars a pair.
Other shoes are for very specific purposes, such as boots specially designed for mountaineering or skiing.
Shoes have traditionally been made from leather, wood or canvas, but are increasingly made from rubber, plastics and other petrochemical-derived materials.