Words by Nontando Mposo
It has been a big year for Durban-based luxury footwear brand iFele and its founder, Reggi Xaba. The sandals, inspired by the traditional amaZulu’s imbadada sandals were seen on the SA Fashion Week runway in Johannesburg as part of Woolworths’ Style By SA showcase. Worn with patterned socks by AKJP, the modernised shoes stood out and were a hit with many.
iFele at Fashion Week. Images: Supplied
Give a snapshot of your life right now.
I am based in Durban, where my home and the design studio is, but I spend a lot of time in Nseleni, Richards Bay, where we produce our shoes. I collect contemporary African art and I love the natural world. I’ve got an inexhaustible curiosity about people and culture and I like to make the world a more beautiful place.
How did you get into the shoe business?
My 21 years in this industry started with a Clothing Design Diploma from Natal Technikon and a first job at Bata as a trainee footwear designer, where I was taught shoemaking and the design process for shoes. After two years, I left to pursue a career in retail as a buyer for Woolworths and later Truworths. Ten years later, I went back into design as an independent contractor for Carducci footwear and other brands. In 2005, I returned to my first love, which is shoemaking and eventually founded Zetu Shoes. We are a design and production company with a focus on developing shoe production in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Who and what inspires the iFele sandals collection?
iFele is a luxury African footwear brand inspired by authentic African aesthetics including the Zulu, Ndebele and Xhosa. We create the shoes in rural KZN. iFele explores the idea of an African urban nomad who is interested in various cultures on the continent and expresses them in a contemporary world. The brand draws inspiration from the craftsmen who make traditional pieces and geometric motifs that are unique to African craft and art. iFele is about us, proud Africans in the urban environment.
Vibrant African patterning is a trademark of iFele. Image: Supplied
The sandals are made with style and comfort in mind. Image: Supplied
How do you decide on the colours for the various sandals? Ours is a combination of market research on what is trending and the colours we see as being part of the brand’s identity. iFele must look simple and naïve yet be bold, geometric and contemporary at the same time. They are bright and happy and made locally with the best quality materials – genuine cow leather on the upper and the sock with synthetic material trims for colour and embellishment.
What are your rules for making a good shoe?
Appealing design, good fit, quality materials.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Designing for our two brands iFele and Num-Num is a daily highlight of my life. Working under established brands with their own ethos and direction can be creatively limiting and, as I have learned the hard way, a very risky platform for building a business. The reception that iFele is getting in the market is also very uplifting but I can’t take all the credit for that. I work with a talented team of creatives who share my vision.
What advice would you give an up-and-coming designer?
There is no substitute for hard work and capitalize on your uniqueness. Every artistic expression must be backed by sound intellectual work and technical ability, otherwise it will not be sustainable. Read, read and read some more. Even if it’s only on the Internet.
Do you have a personal motto that you live by?
I believe that there is beauty to be seen in the man-made and natural worlds.
Where are iFele sandals available? iFele is available in selected Woolworths stores and Woolworths online, The Space and The Space Man stores in Johannesburg and Durban.
Where are iFele sandals available?
iFele is available in selected Woolworths stores and Woolworths online, The Space and The space Man stores in Johannesburg.
See more iFele designs on iFele.com
Feature image: Nicholas Billington