Lethabo Mokoena is grinding and grafting to ensure that South Africa can Walk Fresh. If he has his way, the future of township communities is brighter than a pair of white All Stars straight out of his shop.
“We created something that wasn’t there. Do you get that? Sneaker cleaning wasn’t cool in SA; we made it a thing! We created an entire industry and we did it from the township. That’s some movie s***.”
Self-made is a term that gets thrown around loosely these days. It means being patient, persistent and putting in the work to achieve success against the odds, without inheriting a platform to do great things. Self-made is cultivating the confidence to build something great where before there was nothing. It’s the game before the game, and our future depends on people prepared to earn their status as man of the match.
Luckily, there are individuals that remind us what being authentically self-made really means. Walk Fresh is the innovative and ambitious sneaker care startup founded by Lethabo Mokoena.
Built on the back of a solid vision and an appetite for hard work, Lethabo started the business out of frustration due to South Africa’s high unemployment rates. But, more precisely, the fact that a disproportionate percentage of unemployed people are young black people in townships.
Walk Fresh wasn’t started because Lethabo wanted a fast track to riches or to be his own boss. He was tired of being one of a minority in his township that had big dreams of achieving great things and a plan to make it happen. The dream began on the streets of Daveyton, close to Benoni in Gauteng, and it was never only about him.
“I had to do something that would make us all great,” Lethabo says, pausing for emphasis as he searches for the next words. “Or at least inspire something in others that would motivate them to join me in fighting for our future. Sounds cliché, right? I just want to give people a sense of hope.”
With Walk Fresh, Lethabo and his team are rewriting the township narrative with charisma and defiance.
“For the longest time, the township has been coated with a nasty paint job,” he asserts. “Negative stories about crime, substance abuse, domestic violence, disrupted family structures, unreliable businesses. We’ve started believing that these are the only things we can offer the world.”
Walk Fresh is restoring hope in Daveyton, and in similar communities all around the country. The disruptive startup is inspiring young people to look at themselves differently.
Many processes and techniques Walk Fresh use to clean and care for shoes can’t be found on the internet. The skill of using a toothbrush for polishing shoes or using tissue paper for drying sneakers are inherited. They’re passed down from generation to generation; a window into a legacy that can fuel the flame of optimism.
Lethabo hasn’t left home to achieve better things. He’s found a way to bring better things back home. Most of his clients are youthful members of his community. Teenagers and young adults who come in looking to get their sneakers cleaned, but leave with their perspective refreshed as well.
“We want to inspire kids in the township to look at themselves differently. We want to challenge and create a new family structures. We want to challenge how business is done in the township. We want to challenge the current level of financial literature in the township. We want to inspire a new generation of fathers. We want to challenge patriarchy and homophobia in the township. We want to write a new story about how black people look at each other in the township. Not for the world, but for ourselves. We want to challenge the status quo that says nothing great can come out of these overpopulated labour camps we call home.
We want to do all of this through sneaker cleaning and repairing shoes. Sounds crazy, right?”
Not if the Fresh Prince of Daveyton has his way. The future is bright indeed.
Connect with Walk Fresh on social media:
Facebook: Walk Fresh
Watch Lethabo and the Walk Fresh crew in our latest video below, or see more small business content here.