The word crochet is likely to conjure images of your grandmother’s doilies. However, two young entrepreneurs in Newtown, Johannesburg are setting the record straight.
The strength of Mama Kea lies in its combination of young and old talent. It started when the founders, Sicelo Mabuza and his business partner Khulani Sikhosana, teamed up with two elderly women, Irene Mabitsela and Emma Mavimbela, who they met selling crochet beanies at the Soweto Arts and Craft Fair back in 2015.
“We wanted to match their intricate hand-stitching techniques with our own creative business ideas. As young people, we knew how to promote and market the right product.”
Their sandals, loafers, low and high tops (with soles made from recycled rubber tires); beanies, and bucket hats are all inspired by Africa’s cultures, nature’s organic colours, the beige and fawn of the Khoisan, and the red, green, and yellow of the Pan Africanist movement.
“The shoes are our star product,” enthuses Sicelo. “We start the shoe from the ground, using patterns that define our art as Africans.” Threads of nylon and acrylic are then stitched using calculations so precise they become a distinct fabric and pattern. “There’s arithmetic applied to the patterning.”
It’s a great innovation that their customers love. “They appreciate the craft and are proud that it’s an African product.” Mama Kea is a fashion innovator, much like Xhosa-inspired modern knitwear brand Maxhosa, says Sicelo.
Currently, Mama Kea purchases the soles ready-made, but they hope to manufacture their own in the very near future.
“Before we can parade our products at any more fashion shows, we need to honour our commitment to remain proudly South African at a time when healing Mother Earth is also top of the agenda,” says Sicelo.
So, what does the future hold for them?
They have a shrewd plan for the long-term: Before lockdown, Sicelo and his core staff had trained over 20 youngsters for production so that they’re ready to scale up as required. From this also sprung a formalised curriculum.
“What makes me happiest is to talk about the young people we’ve trained who will help with production.”
This is the framework the duo believes will catapult them and their brand to excellence.