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A Conversation With Mthulisi Moyo: Talking The Inaugural Edition Of Bulawayo Sneaker Expo, The Journey, Being A Sneakerhead in Zimbabwe & The Ecosystem A Functional Sneaker Culture Brings

 Mthulisi Moyo

Sneakers have grown from just footwear to a culture, multi-billion dollar industry and an
Entrepreneurial avenue. Sneaker culture has amplified sporting careers of athletes, fashion designers and artists such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kanye West and Virgil Abloh. Kanye West has an estimated net worth  of over a billion dollars which he can largely credit to the sneaker culture. The western sneaker culture has been making a steady drip into the African continent with countries with better economic standing such as Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa creating enterprises to benefit off this “wave”.

On the contrary sneaker culture in Zimbabwe has been close to non-existent mostly credited to economic challenges and stringent financial policies. Because of these conditions over the past decade, Zimbabwe has witnessed the influx of donated second hand goods and importation of cheap Chinese goods which largely affected the clothing and shoe industries in the country. Footwear manfacturing giants such as BATA were left shaking after the aforementioned factors came into play in the Zimbabwean space. 

In Zimbabwe’s second largest city; Bulawayo, a group of 4 gentlemen are on a mission to bring to life a sneaker culture and an appreciation of the evolution of footwear. The collective started an initiative called the  Bulawayo Sneaker Expo which showcases sneaker culture, offers a platform for people to purchase sneakers and a network pool of like-minded individuals. The first of its kind event which was hosted at The Barn, Hillside in  Bulawayo. This event was covered by Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation’s The Movement. We got hold on Mthulisi Moyo, a partner at Bulawayo Sneaker Expo over a call to understand their mission, we also discussed their inaugural Edition, being a sneakerhead in Zimbabwean context, what the collective has stocked up for the future and Mr Moyo further shared sneaker plugs and his top 3 sneakers of time.  Check out how the conversation went; 

Mthulisi Moyo of Wood Affair and Mlamuli Moyo of Woodies Shack/ image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo


Can you please give our audience a brief background of yourself and your partners?
The name is Mthulisi Moyo, we are four partners at Bulawayo Sneaker Expo. We started off as two individuals, myself and Mlamuli Sibusiso Moyo but along the way we picked up two other guys. During the planning process we noticed that there were other gaps and areas that were not well covered, so we needed to partner with Davison Feliate and Leroy Wap. We roped in these guys because they understood what we were trying to do, it was a bonus because they are also our friends.


As Mthulisi, which moment would you consider as a genesis into the sneaker game?
Uhmm, most probably high school days. I used to play basketball so generally most people who are into basketball are somehow forced into the sneaker culture. It’s a competitive sport starting from who has the dopest and the most expensive kicks on the court. I would always pester my parents for dope sneakers. So that’s where the love of sneakers started from. The Nike Cortez changed things for me during high school days.

The Barn, Hillside, Bulawayo/ image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo


What inspired the idea to start Bulawayo Sneaker Exchange Expo?
It was more of my friend’s idea, actually we would have started the Expo 2 years back but we sat on the idea. In 2021 we decided to revisit the idea, we were determined to make it work and here we are.


How did your personal journeys inspire the inception of Sneaker Exchange Expo?
Let me talk about our partners Leroy Waps and Davison Feliate. According to me they are the biggest Bulawayo Sneaker plugs. You cannot have a sneaker conversation in Bulawayo if you don’t mention these two gentlemen. I have seen these guys’ collections, they can wear a different shoe every single day for a couple of months. That’s how big their sneaker collections are. Their sneakers are always crispy clean. These are guys that inspire you to appreciate sneakers even more. It just gives you a different stance and shows you that there is someone out there with a better perception. I also noticed that with each shoe that these guys buy there is a meaning to it. You cannot put a price tag to their sneaker collection. It’s a sentimental value you cannot explain. These guys’ journeys inspired the Expo. 


How would you define a sneakerhead in the Zimbabwean context?
I would say generally someone who loves sneakers. Someone who understands and is passionate about sneakers. There are different levels of being a sneakerhead. The  first level is someone who will tell you the type of sneaker you are wearing, release date, what it is made up of, what inspired the shoe and how many of these shoes were produced. Then another level is someone who just sells sneakers, on this degree it is just a matter of pushing a brand and an income. Then there is the ultimate someone who does all these levels combined, thats the official sneaker plug.


A stall at Bulawayo Sneaker Expo/ image credit Byo Sneaker Expo


How did the inaugural Edition unfold? Any outstanding highlights?
On a scale of 1-10, I will give it an 8. For a first time event l was really impressed. We were not expecting a huge crowd but the crowd that we got was fair for a first time event. Noone has done an event of that nature  in Bulawayo. We got so many reviews and comments from people on the day, most of them attesting to the fact that the event was unique and a first for Bulawayo. From the reviews on the day December Edition looks promising. To our team the event was a success. It was fulfilling to have a successful event which made the arguments on design planning and entertainment all worth it. We infused food stalls, a gaming zone, a section for sneaker care and teams with accessories. Taking from the successful edition we will be implementing lessons and addressing gaps in the next Edition. We even had some guys who came all the way from Harare to experience the Expo. We are hoping to make it bigger.


A stall at Bulawayo Sneaker Expo/ image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo

 

How would you describe the fashion culture in Bulawayo? Why does it seem closely associated mostly with South African culture?
Uhmm, we are sort of influenced by South Africa. Most of the things we do are either to replicate or to represent the South African essence in general. There is no way we can run away from that fact. Bulawayo is aligned or rather closer to the South African border if you are not considering Beitbridge and Gwanda. Media is also a factor of influence because people consume all these fashion trends. The Bulawayo fashion is easily accessible in South Africa so that is probably why we get our influence from South Africa. The fashion culture in Bulawayo is diverse, during my high school days we had ‘Pantsula’ and ‘Hip Hop’ guys.  


What can be done to improve the sneaker culture in Zimbabwe? What steps can be taken? What do you think cultural curators in Zimbabwe can do better?
That’s a difficult question actually, I think it all goes down to most probably to the economic situation. Most of the high end sneakers you wont buy for US$50, they are quite expensive. There are sneakers which you may need to save. We have a challenge of second hand clothing. Am not saying they are bad because you actually get dope vintage stuff. The challenge is that market will now compete with brand new sneakers in store. We can’t really blame the people because they are trying to make livelihoods. 


  Davison Feliate and Leroy Waps/ image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo


In this era where the Asian market is producing 80% look-alike sneakers, what verification tools did you put in place at the Sneaker Expo to make it a solely authentic sneaker event?
I worked with Leroy Waps and Davison Feliate, these guys don’t just buy or sell any kind of sneakers. They only associate themselves with the real deal. They will even give you a price check review, tell you to go online and find out how much that pair of sneakers costs. So the pair were our litmus test. They did the grading. With the little knowledge that l also have, l can tell by just looking at a sneaker, there are certain little details such as stitching, layout, texture, weight of the sneaker and colorways that can assist you in verifying. These days it’s a good thing that some of these sneakers are being sold with barcodes you can easily verify online on Google.  


image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo

A layman might argue that 'we are both wearing shoes whether fake or original'. In a few words how would you convince them or sell them on the authentic sneaker experience?
I think it all goes down to your priorities and what you like. For instance, I like original sneakers because they last longer. A fake sneaker and an original sneaker do not have the same durability. You can break it down this way; if you can buy a pair of sneakers for US$100 which can last you for 4 years and compared to you buying a US$50 sneaker that will not last you 2 years which means you would have originally bought up the original sneaker if you had just saved up. But l do believe if you genuinely like something, go for it. Cheap is very expensive though.


What is the long-term goal with the Sneaker Exchange Expo?
We are just trying to create a broader network platform of trying to create a legit sneaker culture. We are saying people should appreciate the fine things in life, the soft life [laughs]. Nothing feels better than wearing a new pair of sneakers. No one can take away that feeling and confidence. We are just appreciating sneakers for what they are, the ingenuity and the art. Sneakers have elvoved, they are now business ideas. An opportunity for business growth and just networking. For interest sake the whole point is to develop sneaker brands in Zimbabwe. I would pay good money for a local sneaker. I was not going to mind buying a Ginimbi pair [laughs]


image credit: BYO Sneaker Expo


What are some of the challenges that your team  faced while putting together the Expo? How did you navigate around them?

First of all, getting people to like something they have never done was quite challenging. Trying to convince everyone was a challenge but people who appreciated the culture understand why we had to do the event from the word go. During the sneaker Expo we realized that there was a certain gap in the event. We constantly had sneakers for guys. We got the shock of our lives on the inaugural edition because we had overlooked the lady sneakerheads.  It was a lesson to take heed of that ladies were very much involved in the sneaker game. Nothando Moyo and Winnie from Dencopal Sneaker Hub came with their collections to sell and to showcase. Another challenge was trying to secure people more people who sell sneakers. Going forward l think we will approach brands such as BATA.

 

Who are your go-to sneaker plugs in Bulawayo?
Definitely Leroy Waps, Bongo Sneakers, Tshana Outlets, Dencopal


During the conversation Mthulisi highlighted the love their initiative has received from Media partners. For instance being featured on a show called The Movement on Zimbabwe Broadacting Cooperation (ZBC), also being featured on Skyz Metro Radio Station and Culture Mag  and the Chronicle.


Will the Sneaker Expo experience come to other cities and towns?
That’s a big big question. From the experience that we got, we noticed that there are certain things that we need to know before  we move to a certain town. For example we need to know their culture first, their who-to-go to guy and knowing surroundings. When we are to move it to other towns we will need to know the people who know people to make it happen in that town. We would love to go to other towns and cities.


Air Jordan 1/ image credit: BYO Sneaker Credit


To close off our conversation what are your personal top three best sneakers of all time?  
Tough one but I will go for Air Jordan 1, Nike Cortez and Adidas Superstar Classic.


This interview has been been edited for length and clarity 

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