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Cleaning sneakers and making money

Written by Albert Pule

Youth

A fresh idea has won 26-year-old township businessman Lethabo Mokoenathe the South African Youth Awards entrepreneurship top prize.

Lethabo Mokoena gave up the security of a salary to clean shoes in Daveyton in Gauteng. For the 26-year-old former Sony brand activator, it was an award-winning decision.

Walk Fresh, his two-year-old sneaker and shoe polishing company, employs four other youth and is this year’s winner of the South African Youth Awards entrepreneurship top prize. 

The company is growing, Mokoena told Vuk’uzenzele. The journey has not been easy but the reward has made the struggle worthwhile. “It’s better now and things are starting to look up,” he says. “Entrepreneurship is not what people want us to think of it. People want to glamorise it. That’s why a lot of entrepreneurs are depressed, because this is very hard.”

Mokoena is proud of his achievements, but he is not ready to put his feet up and rest. There is room for growth, and more services to offer his customers. Currently, Walk Fresh cleans sneakers, polishes shoes, refurbishes leather, maintains and refurbishes suede and sells shoe laces. In a few years, Mokoena says, “We will be a one-stop-shop for footwear.”

First steps

Walk Fresh was born out of Mokoena’s frustration. A few years ago he was a graduate who had completed his studies in public relations and corporate Communications. But he had not figured out what he wanted to do with his life.

“One day we were sitting with my friends and one of them was cleaning his mother’s shoes. I asked him, ‘Why you don’t get paid to do that?’ That’s when the guys started laughing. At that moment I saw an opportunity to start this kind of business.”

His friends still laughed when he shared his business idea, but he pressed on. He used his transport money to buy his first batch of cleaning materials. Walk Fresh began operations on the same veranda where the idea was born but has just moved into new premises. Pointing to over 300 shoes waiting to be collected or cleaned, Mokoena says, “Today, we are here. We’ve been here for only two weeks and in a month or two, we will know if our numbers have changed.”

Walk Fresh uses township laundromats as drop off or pick up points for customers. They promise a three-day turnaround, and Daveyton residents get free delivery.   

Contact Walk Fresh at lethabo@walkfresh.co.za, call 073 628 2382 or visit them at 7540 Mangosuthu Street, Daveyton.