With Benefits: SAWA Shoes

This post is the first in a series featuring for-benefit companies — for-profit models that inherently benefit social causes — written by Janette Crawford, founder of the consistently excellent ethical fashion daily Fashion Loves People.

Launched in March of this year, SAWA Shoes are the first 100% African-sourced and African-made sneakers on the market. Sporting a vintage-inspired aesthetic, the sneakers boast the easy familiarity of a true classic-in-the-making.

Familiar, and yet fashion-forward enough that some of the world’s most premier shops have picked them up, from Dover Street Market in London and Comme des Garçon in Tokyo, to Soula in Brooklyn.

SAWA was founded by three friends in Paris with a shared love for Africa and for shoes: Fabio Di Iorio, who worked in product development at Le Coq Sportif and Adidas Originals, Mehdi Slimani who also worked in product management at Le Coq Sportif, and Frédéric Barthélemy, who still has a day job, but plans to devote himself to SAWA full-time in the very near future.

“In a nutshell, Fabio, Mehdi and Fred are people who love to create and live without boundaries,” they say. With a company as well-executed as SAWA, boundaries don’t stand a chance.

Business, not charity

“We wanted to do something concrete to show that Africa can meet high standards and be distributed in the best shops in the world,” says Fred.

And though this article is written under the premise of SAWA being a for-profit company serving a social need, Mehdi insists that was never SAWA’s purpose.

“SAWA is a real fashion brand which has decided (to source) its products in Africa,” he says. “Our business model is based on producing a solid product in a competitive environment: we have a normal relationship with our suppliers, they do not expect any charity from us but real business, we do not make any compromise on quality, timing, etc. It is a real business relationship.”

And besides — “What could have been the interest to create another brand ‘Made in Asia’?” Mehdi says. This is why we love these guys.

100% Made in Africa

SAWA’s sourcing crosses the full African continent, with laces from Tunisia, rubber from Egypt, leather from Nigeria, canvas from Cameroon, and packaging materials from South Africa.

While many of Africa’s raw materials are used in products made around the globe, SAWA is the first company to viably carryout its production on the continent as well, doing all it’s manufacturing in Cameroon.

“We know all our suppliers. We know them, their family, their surrounding, background, etc.,” says Mehdi.

In addition to sneakers, SAWA also sells Cameroon-made matches, soaps and notebooks. “These products are all made in Africa and have a vintage flavor like our shoes,” he says. “We offer them to our stockists so that they can recreate a relevant universe” — so you can buy your African-made shoes with a taste of the context from which they came.

Style meets substance

SAWA’s inaugural shoe style, currently available in three colorways, was designed by Fabio along with members of the brand’s African team. As for design inspiration, Mehdi says, “I have in mind some pictures of Bob Marley playing football in a very fitted Adidas tracksuit…”

Having targeted a “selective distribution,” in order to give the label a sense of exclusivity, SAWA’s stockists are as well-curated as every other aspect of the brand. Even so, demand has been higher than expected, tapping out their initial inventory so that they couldn’t even sell direct-to-consumer through their online store.

Before releasing another style, the brand has plans to offer a new colorway as well as a full leather version. Online sales will be available at the end of August, but in the meantime, Soula in Brooklyn has let us know that they will happily accept orders by phone or email. (Thanks Rick!)

And have we mentioned that SAWA Shoes come at only $85 a pop? A retro price-point to close the loop on that vintage vibe. Classic.

Read more and view styles at sawashoes.com.

About the author:

Janette Crawford is a blogger, journalist and copywriter, focusing on stories about good design with a good backstory. She writes about ethical fashion (that loves you back) at FashionLovesPeople.com and supports indie artists of all kinds through her day job at Storenvy.com. If you sign up for Janette’s RSS feed and follow her on Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo, she’ll love you forever.

  • Geety

    I am sorry this is not an authentic African product. I am a cameroonian with an ultimate goal of creating a shoe company with an authentic label and design. I see addidas allover these shoes, nothing new. Besides, cameroon has all the resources and materials you need, so why manufacture in cameroon with some of your materials from other countries? Africa is not a country!