Mbatata with basketball sole (Provided)

  • Musician and designer Thando Simelane makes Mbatata shoes using the soles of old sneakers.
  • The idea came after the fashion enthusiast found traditional Zulu sandals uncomfortable when worn too long, so he merged comfort and street fashion.
  • The 29-year-old uses the soles of sneakers such as Nike’s Air Force 1, sneakers and others donated by charity.
  • Simelane’s shoes made their catwalk debut when Thai-born Cape Town-based designer Chu Swannapha requested some samples for a fashion show in 2019.
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Thando Simelane makes Mbatata shoes – traditional Zulu sandals – using the soles of old trainers, fusing traditional fashion with streetwear. His designs have even graced the runway.

The musician behind the hit song Egoli, who is also a fashion enthusiast, loved wearing Mbatata sandals, but the lack of comfort was a problem.

Thando Simelane (Provided)

Thando Simelane (Provided)

“I don’t know if you’ve ever tried them, but they’re very flat,” Simalane said. “When I wore them two hours was enough because my feet hurt because also the rubber underneath doesn’t bend much so I thought what can we do with that?” he told Business Insider.

To make the shoes comfortable, Simelane, his business partner Katlego Leroy Tsoagong also known as “Cozy Bone”, and other former partners, decided in 2019 to reinvent the shoe with a sole that could provide maximum comfort. . The solution was to use the soles of sneakers.

“We’re just going to merge the two, try an Air Force 1 sole, try a training sole, anything that has Air technology to see if we can work with that aesthetic, and it kind of worked,” said said Simelane.

Air Force 1 sole plus Mbatata (Provided)

Air Force 1 sole plus Mbatata straps (Provided)

Simelane Business Partner Cozy Bone (Provided)

Simelane Business Partner Cozy Bone (Provided)

The product was well received and earned them a collaboration with Sneakers 4 Change, a local sneaker donation organization that collects sneakers to donate to the less fortunate.

To help raise funds, the organization held an exhibition where the shoes were displayed.

Meghan Markle attends an art exhibition featuring

Meghan Markle attends an art exhibition featuring Simelane’s product (Supplied)

About two weeks later, the young designers were contacted by a Thai-born, Cape Town-based fashion designer. Chu Swannaphawhich is known for its famous African print fashion wear.

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

The fashion icon requested a few pairs of shoes that would be worn at the Durban Fashion Fair 2019 alongside her designer clothes.

“He said he was doing a fashion show and he already had someone for the shoes, but if we could confirm that we could do 20 by a certain date, he would drop everyone for us. We did it.

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

Collaboration with Chu Swannapha (Provided)

Simelane's shoes on the podium (Provided)

Simelane’s shoes on the podium (Provided)

“It was my first time going to Cape Town just to be able to deliver the shoes,” Simelane said.

The 29-year-old’s shoes also made the rounds on social media following a fashion shoot with Durban-based creative director Minenhle Sibisi.

Refine the final result

Although the majority of the finished product comes from a pre-existing shoe, Simelane still has to find the right material and spend enough time to achieve the final result.

Depending on the speed and focus of the team, it is possible to make around five to ten pairs a day, all by hand, according to the business management specialist.



“We cut the shoes ourselves using razor blades and go to the local shoemaker for help.

“The upper of the shoe, made from the original Mbatata rubber, will be replaced with leather over time,” he added.

Although it is not known when the shoes will be available for sale, the handcrafted product will cost between R1,000 and 2,000.

born creative

The 29-year-old model, academic and, as he calls himself, an advocate for South African brands, has been a creative since his early days.

His early designs, which he worked on in high school, include rings and bracelets made from yarn and buttons, necklaces, and other garments he did not share with the public.

Simelane's Early Drawings (Provided)

Simelane’s Early Drawings (Provided)

Thando's First Work (Provided).

A bag and rings made by Simelane (provided).

“My love for design was born when I saw 101 Dalmatians, especially Cruella. The way she dresses is fire. The way she dresses was just cool to me,” he said .

Although he seems to juggle a lot between studies, music and fashion, he doesn’t want to waste his time on anything else.

Thando's First Work (Provided).

A bag and rings made by Simelane (provided).

“Music and design go hand in hand. With music, I need experiences to talk about, and design gives me those experiences.

“It took me places I never thought I would go and buildings I never thought I would be invited to. They kind of feed off each other,” he said.

Currently, Simelane and Tsoangong are looking for investors to help them move upmarket and make shoes a real everyday product.

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