Lethabo Mokoena: The South African entrepreneur who is serious about shoe-care

Lethabo Mokoena in front of the Walk Fresh store

South Africa-based Walk Fresh is a boutique sneaker-cleaning and shoe-care start-up, founded by Lethabo Mokoena, which aims to keep its clients’ shoes looking and feeling as good as new.

Mokoena established Walk Fresh in 2015 with the intention of fulfilling his entrepreneurial urge while confronting the problem of youth unemployment he witnessed in the township he grew up in – Daveyton in Gauteng province.

Walk Fresh adapted the traditional, but informal, business model of street-corner shoe repair services and turned it into a formal company that is recognised by popular shoe-care brands.

Not allowing his business location to become an obstacle, Mokoena was creative about how he used being township-based as a key selling point.

“When we first launched the business, I received overwhelming support from my community, especially in the first few months,” says Mokoena.

“I then took a step back to examine how we can reinvent the idea so as to avoid complacency and redirect our initial goals.”

Mokoena decided to align his business with other youth-owned enterprises in order to create awareness for what he does, and form part of a chain of entrepreneurs openly exploring the township market.

Walk Fresh has faced various obstacles in order to get to where it is today. Challenges range from retaining staff (a result of a fluctuating cash flow) to growing the client base.

“The operating expenses of the business did create a bit of instability – but I guess most businesses go through this phase. That is why it is important for us to earn the trust of our clients and strategic partners,” explains Mokoena.

Building strategic relationships

Establishing a township business doesn’t automatically guarantee support from the locals as most potential customers still prefer to spend their hard-earned money at credible service providers. Hence creativity is key when it comes to attracting customers who are conditioned in this manner.

The first strategic relation Mokoena built for Walk Fresh was with shoe-polish brand Kiwi. “The enterprise development programme at Kiwi pushed us in the right direction as they provided us with financial and non-financial support. Our business was perfectly aligned with this initiative’s objectives.”

“The collaboration with Kiwi helped move my business a step higher, as I was able to secure equipment and the necessary resources that helped our operations to be more efficient.”

Another highlight in the business’ timeline was when it was roped in by sportswear giant Nike to be part of their activation campaign.

The flagship store

In 2017, the company re-invented itself through a flagship store that was sponsored by an entrepreneurship programme established by J&B whiskey (J&B Hive) to up-skill small and medium enterprises.

Mokoena is also using the flagship store as a social space, where other township entrepreneurs can connect and share ideas, or host promotional events for their products.

“After working in the backyard for almost two years, the flagship store brings a fresh dimension to our business and makes it easier for us to manage our work-flow. As a result, we have witnessed a spike in business,” notes Mokoena.

From a simple idea, which was born out of his desire to establish an income stream to fund his studies, Mokoena has managed to build a small business that serves as a training ground for his entrepreneurial ambitions.