The Local sneaker business is finally gaining traction and becoming more trendier by the day, and the funky ‘Cava Sneakers’, founded by young entrepreneur Naledi Mokubela, is the new sensation.
By: Musa ‘Gift’ Mqwashu
Images: Coutersy of Naledi Mokubela
After the locally-made Bathu Sneakers revolutionised the local sneaker game; there has been a surge of game-changing local kicks. And sneaker-heads are finally embracing this trend.
In a country with little to no local sneaker producers, local brands are more intent on conquering the market oversaturated by international brands.
“The fashion industry is evolving,” says Naledi, “Look at Maxhosa and Bathu. Locals are slowly but surely supporting their own. We are doing what we know, and the stories behind our brands are so strong.”
The birth of her Cava Sneakers (‘Cava’, a township slang meaning ‘to look or see’) was bold, and took place at an odd time for many businesses, under the economic uncertainty induced by Covid-19. The spontaneous, and rather brilliant idea, was inspired by Naledi’s search for alternative streams of income. The exclusive sneaker range is imported directly from international partners, with future plans of manufacturing locally.
“We started this business during the lockdown, it wasn’t something that we were planning to do,” she tells Blacklight.
She cites her husband, who works in the digital marketing space, as the inspiration behind the business direction. “He works a lot with shopping centers, and when the lockdown started they were cutting down on their budget, so we needed extra cash, that’s how the Cava Sneakers were born.”
“Our sneakers have become a must-have because you can rock them anywhere, with anything. Whether going to the gym, club, or date night,” Naledi adds. “I love the vibrant colours, it’s a breathable shoe, you don’t have to wear it with socks, and there won’t be any odor because there’s air coming into the shoe,” she explains.
Like any other small business owner, Naledi faced a mountain of challenges at the beginning of her journey. Her biggest hurdle was studying and learning local consumer retail habits and gaining consumer trust, especially with many still mistrusting local brands, and online shopping. “South Africans are fairly new to online shopping, and as a new enterprise, it was difficult to reassure clients that we run a legitimate business.”
With proudly South African sneakers now gaining popularity, especially on social media, Naledi has had to make many adjustments, in efforts to meet the growing demand.
“Entrepreneurship takes a lot of your time,” she says. “I am married and have a 1-year-old daughter. I never thought that I would spend so much of my time at work.” However, she holds on to the idea that the work will pay off “big time” at a later stage.
She beams when reflecting on how far they have come. “Once we started hosting client reviews and posting on social media, people started seeing that this is real. When we look back, four months ago, and how it has grown right now, people don’t even question us anymore.”
While many young black creatives still struggle to turn their innovations into profitable ideas, Naledi says the best way to approach being a creative entrepreneur is to learn the art of perseverance. “I had to learn to be patient because I am building a brand, something new, and I cannot expect everyone to believe in it, instantly.
“It’s important to be driven by passion and to always look out for ways to grow. Patience is not only just about being patient with your brand and clients, but also with yourself, especially if you are new in the game.
“Lucky for me, my husband has been in business for quite a long time, so I had him as a mentor. It’s imperative to have mentorship under someone who has been in business to help with guidance.”
Naledi strongly believes that innovators must also embark on a self-discovery journey because it helps one get a strong sense of self and to understand all their traits – good or bad.
“You won’t invest money and time on things that you are not passionate about. You also won’t invest in a dream if you feel incapable of achieving it,” she explains.
“I was unemployed and at home for quite a long time, and that was the time when I got to discover who Naledi is. When you are yourself, you are able to stand firmly amongst the rest. The space I am in is male dominant, and I stand out simply by being [unapologetically] myself.”
Reflecting on her journey, the costume, make-up, and styling graduate from AFDA (Africa Film Drama Art) believes everything about her career is beginning to make sense, now.
“I may not have made it in the film industry, but here I am running a fashion brand – it’s interconnected.”
She advises young and upcoming entrepreneurs to not let anything hold them back: “Tell your story, and it will sell your brand. Whatever industry you are in, do not be afraid to be who you are. People will be behind you if you bring value.
“It’s a great time to be alive and African. The market is slowly moving away from the international brands, and people can go to the mall and say they want Bathu, Maxhosa or Khosi Nkosi – now is the time.”
For a company launched in a turbulent time, the entrepreneur is also celebrating the purchase of their first company car.
“Buying our first company car was heart-warming and unbelievable because we started the company during the peak of Covid-19, in July,” she beams with pride.
“At the moment we are importing, but the success of the brand has inspired us to consider manufacturing on our own. The only issue we have is finding the right local manufacturing company.”
The future looks bright for Cava Sneakers, and Naledi is excited about taking the business to greater heights. “There are a lot of people in the country; if we could reach the 50% mark, then I’ll know that we are truly working.”
For more info on Cava: cavasneakers.co.za