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#WhoMadeMyShoes: Nkoketse Mameste is the self-taught shoemaker of Lust Be Original

by | Apr 22, 2022

This is the fifth and final story in a five-part #WhoMadeMyClothes series that centres and celebrates the people who make our clothing for this year’s #FashionRevolutionWeek

From a young age, Nkoketse Mameste had to take on the responsibility of supporting his family and could not imagine ever running his own business. Now with an established brand and dreams of opening a studio in his grandfather’s old shoe factory, Nkoketse reflects on the difficulties and joys of being a self-taught artisan.

Nkoketse grew up in the East Rand in Johannesburg with his younger sister and two parents. When his parents split up, “I had to grow up very quickly,” he says, “I needed to care for my mother and sister, so I worked hard to support them.” He dropped out of school to allow his sister to study, and worked at various jobs to earn money, from selling newspapers to working at event companies and as a DJ. He went on to work in media production specialising in making music for television and film, working on shows such as The Voice South Africa, and as a DJ at events like the 2010 Soccer World Cup and President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration. Once his sister finished school, he studied fashion design and launched Lust Be Original as a clothing business.

While juggling two jobs and two passions, Nkoketse started dabbling in shoemaking. “I found an old pair of shoes I owned and took them apart,” he explains, “I figured, ‘if I can make clothes, I can learn how to make shoes too.’”

After studying the components of his shoe, he asked a shoe repairer to teach him the basics of shoe construction. After a few years of working on this craft, Nkoketse discovered that his great grandfather used to make shoes. “Once I found out about his shoe business, I knew that I was destined to be a shoemaker.” He quit his full-time job to pursue his passion.

Over the years, Nkoketse has studied in different countries to learn about leather. But beyond the achievements and opportunities he’s had, a happy client remains the most gratifying aspect of the job. Though that isn’t to say the job doesn’t come with its challenges.

South Africa’s artisanal shoe-making industry is not very advanced says Nkoketse. Sometimes a project requires a component that is hard to find, which makes production difficult. In addition, being a small business comes with challenges. “I don’t always have the cash flow to keep everything running smoothly,” he says. “It takes a lot of guts; you make mistakes and you learn, but it’s always worth it at the end of the day,” Nkoketse says.

In his spare time, he continues to make music and loves spending time with his children. His two young children have already shown an interest in his craft and oftentimes help him. Since his wife left him, Nkoketse has become more involved with caring for them. “I want to be the best father I can be and provide for them,” he says. “They inspire me every day to work harder.”

His plans for the future? Nkoketse wants to grow his business, hoping to employ more than a hundred people. Since closing his factory during the first national COVID-19 lockdown, Nkoketse has been working to recover and expand his business in Johannesburg. He hopes to invest in proper machinery to compete in an international market as well as give back to his local community through sharing his skills and teaching others. “Hand-crafted work is so empowering,” he says, “I want to be able to give kids the opportunity to do something for themselves.”

Nkoketse recently found the factory his great grandfather managed and hopes to reopen his studio there. “I want to continue living his dream and honour his work,” he says.

  • Images supplied by Nkoketse Mameste.
  • To learn more about Lust Be Original, take a look at their Instagram.
  • This article is the fifth article in a five-part #WhoMadeMyClothes series that aims to centre and celebrate the makers behind our clothing during Fashion Revolution month. To learn more about Fashion Revolution, click here.

 

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