He might not be in the same league as Mike Friton, the world famous Nike shoe designer, but Patrick Muchemwa is a shoe maker to note. His ground breaking achievement is his design of a size 16 shoe, 36 centimetres in length.
Speaking from his simple factory shop at the famous Siyaso Market in Mbare, he said that he could not believe that anyone would wear that size. “When I heard about it from the client I thought it was a joke but when I measured his foot I was amazed. This is the biggest size I have ever heard of, designed or made,” he said with a chuckle.
A sweets and cigarettes vendor and shoe polisher twenty years ago, the cobbler got his break in shoe design and manufacturing by accident. He recalls his early days saying, “When I first started, Siyaso Market had not grown to what it is today. I was selling sweets and cigarettes then. We were not allowed in the Central Business District then, so the safest place to do that kind of vending without attracting trouble from the municipal police was just after the fly-over bridge. Even at the bridge the police could give you anxious moments. As time went on, I started selling shoe accessories like rubber inners, sewing threads and glue,” he narrated.
He got the break-through he wanted in 2000. “I used to see people milling around a nearby Indian shop by the name of Sonja at Magaba complex, and I decided to find what those people were queuing for. It happened that the Indian shop sold shoe soles and it was the only shop in the area that stocked them. People used to queue there for hours before the shop opened. I managed to trace where the shop got their soles from and found out that it was from a factory in Msasa. The next step was obtaining those shoe soles and those people queuing become my first customers,” he said.
A marketing and public relations graduate from Harare Polytechnic, Muchemwa then teamed up with his elder brother to painstakingly build a shoe business that moved them away from vending. What has made his designs appealing is their local approach. Most interesting is the type of skins he uses for the shoes.
“I have designed shoes using some of the country’s best skins – ostrich, crocodile, buffalo and elephant,” he says, “These are the most sought after designs by international clients.” He added that he is indebted to the old generation of cobblers at Magaba Siyaso Market and has always admired their talent and craftsmanship.
Perhaps the most daunting task of a shoe designer and manufacturer is to create a shoe that looks fashionable, feels comfortable and that supports a variety of activities. He says that shoe design and manufacturing takes ardent research and skill. It is his belief that if the economy improves he, and other designers and manufacturers, will be able to take advantage of the latest technology and design equipment to introduce new and exciting products that offer the best value to customers. In today’s world every shoe designer recognises that his customer deserves to wear shoes that are both fashionable and comfortable. “The right shoe transforms an ordinary outfit into a special one,” says Muchemwa.
Besides making shoes for the local market, the cobbler has had special orders to supply sandals and leather belts to Namibia, Malawi and South Africa. He says his only misgiving is the closure of the leather companies that used to supply him. “It would be a more lucrative business if the leather companies were still operating at their full capacity.”
Asked if size 16 will be his last extraordinary shoe size, Muchemwa beams, “Probably not. You never know who will come along asking for another size bigger than this.”
Photos: Harry Davies
Patrick can be reached on 0772 362 140.