Thando’s collaborates with African artists to create comfortable, portable ballerina flats that are inspired by causes in Africa. We’re the first truly African, foldable flats brand and we utilize crowdsourcing to determine our assortment. Our social media fans vote on which designs we should produce, and we donate a portion of all profits to a different cause with each unique line.
We’re headquartered part time in New York, where both J.G and I earned our MBAs, and part-time in Lagos, where we work directly with African designers to source our designs. We seek inspiration from both cities and particularly like the emerging, vibrant fashion scene that Lagos has to offer.
What moment or experience inspired you to start your own company?
When I traveled to South Africa for a business school internship, I received frequent compliments on my go-to pair of Duane Reade flats, available on almost every block in NYC for $10. One friend even offered me more than $100 to send her a pair when I got home. J.G and I spotted an opportunity, and set out to build the first African foldable flats brand. We also decided to build it in a way that impacts the communities the designs are coming from. We also chose to name our brand, Thando’s because it is a nickname that was given to me by my South African friends. Thando means love and so it was a fitting name (no-pun intended) for us because we want our customers to feel like their feet are loved whenever they wear our shoes.
Did you ever doubt yourself or face significant challenges starting out?
We had all the stats to backup our market opportunity: footwear is a $70 billion market; last year $11 billion went to women’s casual footwear, the fastest growing segment, which isn’t at all surprising when you consider that one in five women complain of foot pain after wearing heels for ten minutes.
Despite all those facts, I was a bit nervous about producing African printed foldable flats. Nobody else was making them in the space, and I wasn’t sure whether there was demand. J.G pushed us to experiment, and I’m glad we did: we sold out in under two months.
The biggest challenges we have faced so far were (1) finding the right manufacturing partner: most quality factories require a minimum order size that far exceeds what a start-up can actually afford and (2) what we at Thando’s call “the strike that stole Christmas”. The major aviation authorities in Nigeria went on strike during the 2015 holidays which left us and many other businesses without goods to sell during the holiday season. What we learned from this is to incorporate more forward planning for future orders.
What does “success” look like for your company five years from now?
Profits from our first line provided 600 people displaced by floods with food and new mattresses. Success for us means continuing to have this sort of impact by building and selling a product women also need and love.