LUCY LUMBE, Livingstone
UNLIKE adidas and Puma which exists as a result of a family feud, Rogers Phiri owes his shoemaking business to his uncle.Rogers, 25, does not yet have a brand, but at least he is eking out a living in Dambwa Site, Livingstone where his shoemaking business is based.
Although largely self-taught, he was assisted by his uncle who used to work for a shoe manufacturing company in Botswana.
“I dropped out of school in Grade Nine because my parents were unable to pay schools fees for me and my seven siblings, this forced me to drop out of school in my ninth grade,” Rodgers said in an interview from his small shop in Dambwa Site.
Rodgers says he started making shoes in 2013 with help from his uncle Obert Phiri who thought it was a good idea to teach his nephew some skill. His uncle, who retired in 2010, thought the skill would help keep him away from certain vices.
And it has.
With six shoe shapers, a sewing machine and a knife, Rodgers uses these tools to make the shoes that he proudly displays in his small makeshift shop for sell.
Before relocating to Livingstone, Rogers tried to set up his business in Lusaka. However, the profit margins were not good and so decided to move to Livingstone in 2016.
In Livingstone, he found that the cost of renting shops in the central business district was too high. That is how he moved to Dambwa Site.
“When I made the decision to come Livingstone to start my business, I thought it would be easy for me to get my shoes on the market knowing that this is a tourist capital, but all that became a challenge for me,” he says.
“The problem that the business is facing is that it is not growing as I had anticipated it would, machinery is a challenge for us because we are lacking proper tools and we are just currently using a sewing machine and other tools.”
However, Rodgers, who works with his brother-in-law Combson Mutoiwa, 28, in a makeshift structure made out of planks and sacks along a hasty busy road in Dambwa Site area a few metres away from the railway, is at least able to put some food on the table.
The shoes may not be in the mould of a Calvin Klein or indeed any of these popular shoe brands, but they are good enough to pass for some made in a factory with high-tech machines. The make is certainly is exquisite with a fine touch of fine Zambian leather.
Rodgers gets his materials from Zamleather in Lusaka. Zamleather, owned by Zambeef, prides itself in being the home of Zambia’s best leather and leather footwear products.
He has tagged prices at considerably affordable prices to ensure that more people are able to buy and have a feel of Zambian made shoes.
“The shoes range from K170 to K200 while shoes for the younger boys go for about K30. But not only that, we also make ladies slippers which we sale for K50,” Rodger says.
Rodgers, who lives with his wife Tamara Mutoiwa in Livingstone’s DSV township, says with the help of Combson, his brother-in-law, they sale about five to six pairs of shoes on a daily basis while they make ten pairs daily.
“At the moment one problem we have is we need a cutting machine because currently we are using an ordinary kitchen knife to cut the leather and at times it makes our work difficult because the material needs to be neatly cut into a fine piece using a cutter,” Rodgers says.
He says making and designing shoes has become part of his life and is hopeful that with time, as the business grows, he will be able to employ other workers and also boost locally made shoes and the fashion industry.
Rodgers, a committed Catholic who congregates at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, is optimistic that his fortunes will turn around for the better.
Kelina Kayama, a resident of Dambwa Site, says the works of Rodgers are admirable because he is a passionate man who uses the few tools he has to make beautiful quality shoes.
“I just want to implore my peers and other youths in the country to invest in their talent and not just wait to be employed. Each and every person has a God given talent, let them utilise it to achieve their desired dreams,” Rodgers said.
Shoes made in Dambwa Site