The Story of Matsidiso: 10 Questions With The Creator of the Ethical Shoe Brand

Meet Jinae, an American marketing guru, traveller, co-owner of an ethically-chic shoe brand, Jacobs coffee enthusiast and probably one of the most genuine people you’ll meet. 
In her latest interview with the Bizladies, she not only shares the origins of the brand, but she also opens up about what it’s like to co-own a shoe brand in South Africa today.

1.The story behind Matsidiso. When was it established, by who, why, etc.

Hi, my name is Jinae and I’m an American from Seattle, Washington. 

While living in South Korea / travelling Asia, I met my now-husband and business partner Christiaan. Before I ever knew that we would be married, he told me about his mom’s dance factory in South Africa. At the time, it had been struggling as the dance industry had seen a lot of changes in SA. Before ballet and dance were prerequisites in school, now they are more of a luxury than a part of the normal curriculum. She needed more help back at the factory, and basically, after a very long story shortened, we decided to move to South Africa and do just that- help in whatever way we could to keep the business alive. 

After aiding in the digital marketing side of the business (that was my career before), I  began to fall in love with the manufacturing and factory lifestyle. I loved the ability to create something from my head and see it come to life on the other side. 

Christiaan’s mom was very supportive of letting me play around in the fabrics and be a part of the process, which I’ll always be very grateful for because as an American the option to ever be a part of a factory was not in my realm of possibilities. It was enchanting. I also loved the factory team and their genuine and honest ability to speak frankly. They were cheeky and fun then, and they still are now, and really do feel like family. 

 

After hearing their stories and knowing what areas they come from (most from quite harsh areas in the townships), I also wanted to do anything to ensure at very least their jobs were secure.  My mother-in-law has cared SO much about keeping the business alive- she has spent 15 years of her life dedicated to it day in and day out on her own and I knew it would be devastating for her to lose it. 

Because the factory already had ballet footwear and Latin/ Ballroom line, making shoes was the obvious choice. Further, Christiaan’s mom had always wanted to make shoes because she saw the potential as the barrier to entry in the footwear industry was high and there weren’t a ton of options to buy locally made footwear. 

After another long story short, and two years of deliberation on whether or not to start a footwear company (plus leaving a job after a year that I didn’t exactly enjoy), it was finally time. 

I spoke with my husband and mother-in-law and asked if they trusted me to start a brand... and that was the beginning! We started our venture in May  2017.

2. Take us through building your brand.

The origin of Matsidsio started with Christiaan’s mom. She told me a story from her childhood. She was the child born after a miscarriage, and her Sotho family named her Matsidiso (comfort after difficulty or 'condolence' directly from Sotho ). She grew up in the Free State during the apartheid era. However, she told me about how she walked to school with her Sotho friends, (she is Afrikaans), and there wasn’t the same segregation at the time as that which was seen in the cities. Of course, it existed but it wasn't as harsh. In fact, her Mom was a fluent Sotho speaker and Antoinette learned Sotho in school as a mandatory subject. 

Her story gave me chills. I loved the idea that in such a dark era in SA there was still hope, and in some places, real friendships between people that otherwise would have been divided. 

Matsidiso as a brand name became the obvious choice, and thereafter developed into a whole movement within our company about creating hope, possibility, and essentially freedom (what should be an innate human right). 

The fact that the factory was failing, and we had an opportunity to turn it around with footwear gave us hope. Creating a safe workplace for a team meant liberation for members that some have viewed as a safety net away from volatile home environments. 

'I also wanted to create a brand that celebrates the diversity of South Africa instead of creating a brand about myself. South Africa is full of such beautiful cultures, and people really do make a place. South Africans are warm, loving, humble and compassionate. I wanted to create a brand that celebrated that, and that hopefully, builds a community around the education of each culture so that individually we can understand one another better, which is where I believe the healing in SA will ultimately come from. If we can understand each other, we can work together.' 

This is where ‘Shoes For The Liberated’ began. It was a slogan that supported the name Matsidiso. We ultimately want to create a brand that brings liberation to our team, our community through social impact, and to our brand community by showing compassion and appreciation of each other’s cultures. Ultimately, we don’t care about just ‘selling beautiful shoes’ but we actually want to make a real difference. 

Liberty, freedom- they are such powerful concepts and our innate human right. Freedom is what we all seek. Our brand is about exploring the word and really digging into the question ‘what is real liberation?’. From exploring the concept within our business to externally speaking with our Matsidiso community, we want to use liberation as a tool for empowering others long-term. 


 

3. What makes this brand outshine other local brands?

I would say our unique factor. Our shoes are truly impacting a life on the other side. They aren’t produced in mass, and each pair has its own history and story. From how we name our shoes, how they are made, to what they stand for, I believe we have a heartfelt brand on a mission to make positive changes in South Africa.

 4. Why do you think people tend to buy foreign brands rather than local?

I think there are a few layers here, but primarily that there is still a massive need for education to the public around the impact of supporting local brands (in particular, slow fashion and ethical brands) and reciprocally the impact of supporting mass consumption organizations. Whether we accept it or not, we are IN a global crisis due to mass waste and mass consumption- as well as the depletion of entire ecosystems and extinction of animals due to the way we are treating the planet. It is my responsibility as a business owner to care about the materials I’m using- to recycle and be as sustainable as possible. It is equally important for the consumer to have the proper education and understanding of what they are buying, and not everyone does. If we don’t know better how can we change? 

The local brands I’ve had the chance to learn from in SA are very conscientious of how they run their businesses. They have a direct impact on employment and have a strong understanding of sustainability, especially because we all live in a volatile environment where water is such a precious resource. As business owners, we understand the knock and effect of irresponsible decisions. I think if someone isn’t supporting locals, it might be because on a fundamental level they aren’t fully understanding the impact and the benefit that is essential is for themselves as much as the business they are supporting. 

Large brands that encourage mass consumption are extremely clever at pushing their agenda to purchase seven or eight times a year- but if on every tag purchased from these companies we also saw how many animals were killed or how many trees cut down, or the horrific salaries paid to the person who made the clothing, I believe we would all make different choices. Ignorance is bliss they say- but if all humans were no longer ignorant to the facts, I think their innate compassion would kick in and as a collective, we as consumers would think differently. 

5. Who is your inspiration in the fashion industry and why?

Mara Hoffman because I’ve always loved her designs- but mostly have been loving on her for being one of the leaders in the high fashion industry that has fully adopted sustainable fashion despite it taking her two years to fully make that transition. 

And secondly, I have to mention Manolo Blahnik. His footwear is pure art- he is a true artist. He had / has such a passion for design and footwear, it’s extremely inspiring. I had the privilege of visiting The Wallace Museum in London- the exact spot where he sketched footwear designed directly inspired by the art on the walls and his vision is extraordinary. If you get a chance to watch his documentary, it’s well worth it! 

6. What was the biggest mistake you made when just starting out?

To reiterate the above, I probably tried to do too much, too fast. I designed too many styles all at once, despite my husband’s wise advice to start with just a few styles. We expanded a bit too quickly and that came with its own set of challenges. 


7.  If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?

Perfection is in the process. And to start small and refine. I have very high expectations of myself and have experienced burnout a few times because I feel a need to do a million things at one time, and for all of them to somehow be perfect. This is likely a normal experience for many entrepreneurs- but sometimes we just need to breath, step back and say ‘good job’ to ourselves. Also, to slow down. Focus is everything.

8. How do you want women to feel when wearing your shoes?

Elevated and happy. I want women to not take themselves too seriously but enjoy stepping outside of the box. Our shoes are not always usual, but my greatest joy is when someone who would typically wear one of our simpler styles tries on a funkier shoe and falls in love. They tap their toes in our shop and have a completely different demeanour. Our customers often tell me ‘how many compliments’ they get from their friends. I just love it! Life is about fun. While we women should feel confident and chic, having fun is a part of showing off your confidence. I think it shows a sign of bravery to do your own thing- to follow your own trend and not everyone else’s.

9. What is your favourite part about being a designer?

There is nothing better than to dream up a design and to see it come off the shoe line, in real living flesh and exactly as I imagined it (sometimes it takes one or two tries)! I will never get over the excitement of waiting for a new sample to be made. I’m infinitely proud of our team and their ability to turn my stick man shoe drawings into a cohesive beautiful design (haha). But seriously, they are incredible. The handmade process is beautiful. 


10. There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?

I would say, slow down. Appreciate the process and rather put out quality over quantity. Learn about yourself, because you will change and evolve the more you know. Further, create something special that we can wear season after season, instead of seasonal. As creators, we tend to lose patience, and by the time one design comes out we’re bored and ready to make something new again but be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey. That’s the point anyway. If you aren’t having fun, stop and reflect until you are. Life isn’t about stress and deadlines.

If you would like to read the full article of Jinae’s interview with the Bizladies then click here.

 


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