How The Afridrille Came To Be

11 June 2019 | East Africa Travel |

Reading Time: 6 MINUTES

Zane Wilemon from Ubuntu Life tells us about his ‘sole-searching’ mission to Ethiopia which eventually led to the creation of Africa’s first fully customisable shoe

“Our goal while on this earth is to transcend our illusions and discover the innate power of our spirit. We are responsible for what we create, and we must therefore learn to act and think with love and wisdom and to live in service to others and all of life.” – Caroline Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit

Dummy shoes

Early in the morning as we boarded our plane for Ethiopia, an illusion pervaded my spirit that we would never be able to make a shoe. I was handicapped by fear that it was all nothing more than a big idea. And yet here we were, Jeremiah Kuria, Ubuntu Life Co-founder, and five very adventurous executives from Zazzle, a Silicon Valley-based company, flying from Nairobi to Addis Ababa on a quest to master the art of shoemaking.

Afridrille sole print

The goal was to learn how to make shoes and then bring the concept back to our Ubuntu Life Maker Mums, and empower them to make shoes. But not just any shoe would do – Africa’s first fully customisable shoe.

Afridrilles soles and glue

As much as I believed in our Ubuntu Life Maker Mums, the reality was that not a single one of us had ever made a shoe, worked for a company that made shoes nor had any affinity for a career in cobbling. Regardless, we were boarding a plane for Ethiopia to learn about the shoe-making process, and I was carrying a heavy burden of doubt wondering if we could truly pull this off – the illusion was strong.

Afridrilles single sole

As we touched down in Addis, we hit the ground running. The days that followed were filled with visits to local leather tanneries, shoe factories as well as a few peculiar meetings, such as one with a German ex-pat who was eager to convince us to substitute the traditional jute sole of an espadrille with banana leaf.

Lady making Afridrille

As our Ethiopia journey drew to a close, we soon came to the realisation that we were probably trying to pull off too much of a feat by making shoes in Kenya. The expertise required, the vulcanisation process of making soles alone and all the extra equipment we would need to purchase made this once exciting endeavour a roaring and humbling defeat within just a few days. Had the illusion actually been no illusion at all, but a reality that I should have known from the start was true? We packed our bags and headed back to Nairobi, our Zazzle crew leaving for the US just days later.

Afridrilles mums

Months went by and the feeling of embarrassment lingered. Why did I ever consider such a crazy idea? But then I received an email from the Zazzle team. The email was brief, “Hey Zane check out this YouTube clip of a woman homemaking an espadrille shoe. Looks simple, like she took two of our canvas coffee sleeves, sewed them together and attached a jute sole. Think the Maker Mums could pull this off if we ‘re able to locate a sole manufacturer?”

Afridrille and hands

And then just like that, everything changed! A year of blood, sweat, love and tears later, we made Kenya’s first espadrille shoe and Africa’s first fully customisable shoe which we affectionately branded, The Afridrille.

Red Afridrille 2

“Our goal while on this earth is to transcend our illusions and discover the innate power of our spirit.” The important part about all of this is that often, in order to discover that innate power and to transcend our illusions, we need the love and belief of those around us. It was because the Zazzle team never gave up on our idea, and the Maker Mums never gave up in their belief in their abilities, that they empowered me and the rest of our Ubuntu team into creating something full of love and “in service to others and all of life.”

Red Afridrille

Note from the Editor:

We are so pleased that Afridrilles will be available for guests to purchase in the Angama Safari Shop from July 2019

AUTHOR: Zane Wilemon

Co-founder and CEO of Ubuntu Life, an Episcopal priest, and a Huffington Post “Hunk with Heart”. Over 15 years at the head of Ubuntu Life, he has helped the organization grow from a charity with 3 employees to a blended nonprofit business employing over 80 individuals in Kenya and the United States, with sustained revenues over $1.5 million annually. Zane is a frequent inspirational speaker, recipient of the Charles J. Cook Award in Servant Leadership from the Seminary of the Southwest.

Bunny farnell-watson
June 12, 2019

I just love my afridrilles which were a present. They were too small to begin with but on second try they fit like a glove. Thank you and good luck

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