Meet the cobbler who taught himself to make shoes

The Chronicle

Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Matabeleland South Bureau Chief

LAWRENCE Tshuma, a cobbler and shoemaker first attempted to repair a damaged shoe when he was a 10-year-old.

Coming from a poor background, Tshuma’s parents could not afford to buy him a new pair. He had no choice but to repair his worn out school shoes, though he did a shoddy job, to ensure that he always had shoes on his feet.

The 40-year-old, who is from the Mzimuni area in Gwanda, said his first attempt at mending his shoes was to patch a hole. He used a wire as a makeshift needle, used a piece of cloth as a patch and used a strand from a sack as a twine.

Tshuma gradually became better at repairing his shoes and his family noticed. Before he knew it members of his family started giving him their shoes to repair at home.

The Gwanda-based cobbler said he started his business of repairing shoes in 2004 while he was operating underneath a tree.

“I started shoe repairing as a business in 2004 but before that I started repairing my own shoes at a young age. My first attempt was in Grade Seven. I was raised by a single mother in the rural community of Mzimuni area in Gwanda. My mother couldn’t afford to buy me a new pair of shoes each time they got torn or worn out,” he said.

“This pushed me to learn how to repair my own shoes. I made a needle out of a wire and I used a strand from a sack. My first attempt was terrible but as I continued to repair my shoes the more I improved. When I moved to Gwanda Town I started off as a vendor and then I moved to shoe repairing. I started off working underneath a tree as I couldn’t afford to rent a shop.”

His business grew gradually and his clientele widened. He moved into a shop in 2006. Tshuma expanded his business to also include shoe and belt manufacturing. He started trading under the name, Mathanda Shoe Repairs and Manufacturers.

Today he manufactures leather slippers and sandals which he sells from his shop. He buys his raw materials in Bulawayo and he sells some of the raw materials, micro rubbers, to other cobblers.

“I decided to diversify and I introduced manufacturing of leather slippers and sandals and belts. I buy my leather, rubbers, buckles, twine and fur from shops in Bulawayo. My shoemaking skills are also self-taught. I design and cut out the shapes of my products. I don’t have a stitching machine so I go to other shops for stitching. I use glue to put the remaining parts of my products together.

Leather shoes and sandals on display at the Bulawayo Leather Industry

“I buy different colours of leather so that I can offer my clients variety. After I have put together my sandals or slippers I apply dye so that I come out with a finer product,” he said.

While he now also manufactures leather products, he admits that the shoe-repairing business still brings in more money. On a good day he can realise about R400 from shoe repairs. Tshuma ensures that he puts a lot of effort into repairing each shoe so that his clients remain satisfied. He said he always makes an effort to find a way to repair a shoe no matter how damaged it was.

Tshuma said the shoe-repairing business has had good business in the past and it still does.

Small to Medium Enterprises – Image taken from Shutterstock

“When I was working from underneath the tree I used to take only a few orders as I couldn’t take all the shoes home. So I would mostly take orders that I knew I could clear on the same day. I also had a few tools of operation, this limited my scope of work. Shoe repairing is an ideal business because it mainly requires skills. It doesn’t need as many resources as shoe making. As a result I focus more on shoe repairing than shoe making. The shoes I make are usually re-ordered.

“Shoe repairing is still a viable business because instead of buying new shoes people usually prefer to repair the ones they own. The number of cobblers has increased but what is important is doing the best job in order to keep clients happy and to win over new clients,” he said. — @DubeMatutu

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