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Q&A with Jinae Heyns on how Matsidiso shoes take sustainable steps

by | Oct 9, 2020

Founded in 2017 on a calculated whim, Jinae Heyns left her marketing career to co-found the ethical shoe brand, Matsidiso. Jinae had approached her mother-in-law about the family’s struggling dance-shoe factory which Jinae believed she could turn around.

What makes Matsidiso unique is its attention to detail. “For us, we want our shoes to be statement pieces, and quality, treasured investment pieces.”

Tell us about Matsidiso shoes?

I have always aspired to make our shoes wearable art that reflects the vibrancy, diversity, colours and textures of South Africa. I wanted them to feel like special pieces that evoke emotion – whether that be joy because of the quirky designs, belonging because it feels like home, or confidence because they make you feel bold and brave. At the same time, we source all of our materials locally, we handcraft our wooden heels and we make our soles from compressed leather called ‘vegetable tanned leather’ in-house and treat them with beeswax for a beautiful finish.

What materials do you use and why?

While it can be controversial for some, we use leather, which is both a natural and a lifelong material. This wasn’t a decision that was reached lightly. We want our shoes to last and although there are alternative leathers available, we would have either had to charge a great sum for them as they need to be imported, and we weren’t sure about the longevity of the material.

I did my homework and continue to do so.  We’ve vetted tanneries that believe in sustainability, and use Mossop in Wellington. They are on a mission to become carbon neutral, implement social impact programmes, recycle 15 million litres of water per year and tend a massive but controlled Spekboom Garden which sequesters 2 to 5-ton carbon emissions per year.
Furthermore, we only make our shoes in small batches or on demand. That way we can cut down on our waste. While we’ve found it is difficult for customers to adjust to a wait period, I believe once they understand why we operate with this model there’s a bigger appreciation for the item when they receive it.

What challenges have you faced as a brand?

Shew! I think the first few years of business (at least for us) have been nothing but trying to overcome insane obstacles. I’ve put blinders on to tune out to the competition. As they say, comparison is the thief of joy’, and this is true no matter how clichéd it sounds. If you can, make sure you have a few months of capital behind you because cash flow is real! We didn’t and although we’ve made it, it was difficult. Take it SLLOOOWW. It might feel like you have to do everything at once, but that is a mistake. For your sanity, allow yourself time and let go of ‘imposter syndrome’. (I didn’t in the beginning and felt burnout many times because of it). Work on your mental state. Take care of you always. Trust your instincts, trust yourself, and if you believe in what you are doing deep down, don’t let anyone else’s opinion bog you down. You can always receive feedback but you don’t have to take it as fact. Take care of your community and customers from day one, they will be with you for the whole journey if you do.

Are designers adapting to working with the environment rather than against it?

From what I can tell, the fashion industry in South Africa and in Africa is evolving with the times and focusing on sustainable efforts, weaving them into their garments and products. I think designers here are inherently more conscientious compared to the likes of USA (where I’m from). With the whole world in flux I think young designers especially are not only making more considered decisions, but demanding change. Look, we can always do better and this is a lifelong journey, but I do think with the spotlight on the fashion industry to change, and many fast fashion or luxury brands already making great shifts to reduce their impact, we can see this isn’t a trend. It’s a new reality and if we want to survive as a human race, let alone as a business, we need to change now. We, as designers, need to continue to educate consumers. I think the trends are changing and consumers are also waking up to the importance of ethical / sustainable practices.

Do you think fashion can eliminate social divisions?

Absolutely! Right now, two incredible local designers who are soaring in the international fashion space, Thebe Magugu and Sindiso Khumalo, are using their collections to create change through telling stories. Their work is so honest and thoughtful. They are educating through masterful visual content that is also their own wearable art which then becomes a statement of the wearer about what they stand for, what they believe in. And that is powerful.

If you were to choose another career path, what would it be and why?

I’ve wanted to be so many things! Probably a business coach or interior designer. I say business coaching because it ticks the box of my great love for working with people. Now that I have more perspective in local business and what it’s like to be a small brand, I think it would be wonderful to help someone conquer mental fear, stress and anything standing in the way of the success of their business. I say interior design because it’s still design, it’s creative and I’ve been obsessed with how to create Zen, optimal spaces to maximise creativity.

Advice on being a more ‘sustainable’ designer?

The important thing is to just start. Do your research and know what options are available to you. From there, use your creative power to make what you have, work. Can you use secondhand or upcycled materials and make patch work dresses for example? Can you use dead stock fabric and make limited runs for your dresses?

These are things I wish I hard learned from day one. I knew nothing about shoe making – nothing AT ALL. I really judged myself for not being my version of perfect and sustainable right out the gate. I wanted to have a social impact and do everything. There are 10 areas of sustainability and ethical practice for businesses. For example: preserving a craft, using better materials, paying fair wages are just some. If all that you do is focus on one when you start you are winning. Try your best with what you have. Your creativity does the most for you when you are in a financial pinch, I promise. My best ideas happened when I was wondering how I could pay our rent for the month!

What have you learnt from Covid-19 and being in the fashion industry?

With so many well-known brands or chains closing, Covid-19 has really taught us that no business is safe. We’ve learned how important it is to be dynamic, flexible and well-versed in the digital space, as much as how to build a community in those spaces. Fashion businesses are having different conversations now – more sincere, real and are reacting to the need for change. Personalisation and active listening seem to be the reason for the success of some brands and the lack thereof the reason for the demise of others.

Our hope and ultimately our goal is to connect on a deep level with our customers and followers. Despite everything 2020 has thrown at all of us, despite how draining and difficult, it has been magical to connect and to see people appreciate the finer things in life. Our dreams long term are to be voted as the best place to work in South Africa. It’s been my goal since day one. I believe happy people create happy customers. I’ve worked in far too many lame jobs in my life, I want Matsidiso to be a place of change, opportunity and joy – as corny as that may sound. I just know any great product starts from within first.

To find out more about Matsidiso shoes, visit their website here.

Images: Supplied

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