Economy

In Their Shoes: Making 'Made In Africa' Both Posh And Profitable

The “100% Made in Africa” sneaker company Sawa is struggling to keep its brand in Africa, faced with corruption and consequences of the Arab Spring. But the touch of local handcraft combined with cheap labor is loaded with potential.

Making the leap, into Made in Africa sneakers
Making the leap, into Made in Africa sneakers
Dominique Chapuis

Manufacturing in Africa is no walk in the park.

The three founders of the sneakers brand Sawa have also learned the differences in the difficulties, depending on which African country you're doing business in. Beginning in 2009, the shoes were produced in Cameroon, but production was relocated to Ethiopia in May 2011.

"It broke our hearts to relocate, but it was either that or closing up shop completely," says Mehdi Slimani, one of Sawa's two French founders, the third is from Italy. "We knew that to keep the brand alive, we had to stay in Africa," he adds.

The core concept of the Sawa project is to export a fashionable "made in Africa" brand. The models are designed by local craftsmen. "It's activism, but we're not here to ‘save Africa,"" explains the young entrepreneur.

Sawa's three 30-something founders chose Cameroon because of the local know-how, the same reason why Shoe giant Bata had a factory in the country for many years. The trio had signed a deal with a local partner company producing work boots. All of the raw material to produce Sawa shoes came from Africa: canvas came from Cameroon, leather from Nigeria, laces from Tunisia and rubber from Egypt.

But settling in Cameroon for the long-term proved truly impossible, because of corruption in the port of Douala, as well as the side effects of the "Arab Spring." The shoe components transited through the harbor's custom office, where the amount of taxes was unpredictable from one day to the next.

"We always had to negotiate. At the end of the day, the taxes prevented us from being a profitable business," Slimani adds. On top of this, protests in Tunisia and Egypt caused delays in supplies and therefore, in the production of shoes – which led to a situation where Sawa had to pay fines to retailers waiting to sell the new collections in their shops. "We were disappointed, because we expected locals to be economic patriots," the entrepreneur says.

An Ethiopian upgrade

In the end, the company moved to Ethiopia, where its owner-managers were attracted by the recent government-backed industrial dynamism. They were also drawn in by the possibility to buy all the raw material within the country. The Ethiopian partner has a factory with 300 workers who cut, sew and put the pieces together. "We have lost the ‘craftsman" aspect, but we have gained in quality, volume, productivity and security," says Slimani. Sawa also entrusted a young Ethiopian agency with its public relations.

Sawa's owners want their shoes to become best-sellers. Last year, their order books fell after they were unable to produce the winter collection in time. On top of finding new clients, Sawa has to convince its old customers to trust them again.

Originally sold in "trendy" shops such as Dover Street Market in London, Comme des Garçons in Tokyo and Wood Wood in Berlin, the brand reached retailers such as J. Crew in the United States or Tomorrowland in Japan. It's also sold at the Printemps department store in Paris. In 2012, Sawa is aiming to produce 15,000 pairs of shoes; and the trio of entrepreneurs is hoping to double the figure in 2013. The launch of a new model – high top leather sneakers sold at 115 euros – may give revenue a nice kick.

Read the original article in French.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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