Smart sneakerhead cleans up after turning his passion into cash

SA's takkie business is worth R5bn, attracting big spenders who'll drop R30k on a cool pair. Kabelo Moteme saw a golden opportunity and started Dr Shine-A-Lot, writes Sbu Mkwanazi

07 February 2021 - 00:02 By Sbu Mkwanazi
Dr Shine-A-Lot's Kabelo Moteme.
Dr Shine-A-Lot's Kabelo Moteme.
Image: Supplied

Kabelo Moteme, a 21-year-old entrepreneur from Akasia, Tshwane, who established a sneaker-cleaning company called Dr Shine-A-Lot in March last year, probably wouldn't get along with a guy like me.

He's an established sneakerhead with his own sneaker-cleaning company while I, on the other hand, am a 38-year-old man-boy with a black marking pen that I used to creatively draw a "tick" on my sneakers in '95. To make matters worse, the pen was more expensive than the shoes.

According to industry analysts NPD Group, the global sneaker business, including sales and associated services like cleaning, trading and reselling, is estimated to be worth R800bn. In SA, the industry has a still-considerable R5bn share of that.

It's mostly millennials who are willing to fork out R15,000 and more for a pair of Adidas Yizee Boost 750s, R25,000 for Louis Vuitton x Supreme Run Aways, or R29,999 for Nike Air Force 1 BHM Africas. Marking pens sold separately, of course.

SA's most expensive locally made sneaker is the Bathu Opel GSI Limited Edition. Only 80 pairs were manufactured and each pair went for a heart-stopping R397,000.

Priced at R397,000, the Bathu Opel GSI Limited Edition is SA's most expensive locally made sneaker.
Priced at R397,000, the Bathu Opel GSI Limited Edition is SA's most expensive locally made sneaker.
Image: Supplied

Bizarrely, at that price you still have to clean them yourself, which is true of almost all expensive sneakers.

Moteme saw a gap in the market and decided to establish Dr Shine-A-Lot to clean sneakers for people who'd prefer not to put an old toothbrush, some Sunlight soap and a bit of elbow grease to good use.

"It all started as a hobby cleaning my own sneakers, then my family's shoes and then the circle got bigger. I remember the moment I fell in love with sneakers: it was when I unboxed a pair of brand-new white Nike High Top Air Force 1s. They weren't my first pair of sneakers, but there was something different about them. It was the start of a beautiful relationship and I had no idea how much sneakers would be a part of my life," says Moteme.

I assume the average middle-class South African washes their own sneakers. What does Moteme do differently to achieve the kind of immaculate cleanliness that a waskom (an old-school enamel washing bowl) and a few hours of free sunlight can't?

"I match the material that the shoe or sneaker is made of with the correct cleaning agents and methods. Using direct sunlight to dry sneakers damages them and this reduces their longevity. The point is to preserve them in the same condition as when they were first bought. I air-dry them in a shaded area to keep their structural integrity," he says.

Sneakers have become status symbols, elevated to be an expression of style and taste for a particular demographic.

These "sneakerheads" receive newsletters telling them about rare and in-demand pairs of shoes and they are invited to attend exclusive sales, auctions and raffles.

For true sneakerheads, the shoes give us a feeling of power and exclusivity. We are passionate fanatics who will do anything to get hold of an exclusive pair. The shoes are so integral that we plan our outfits based on the sneakers we wear.

BECOMING A SNEAKERHEAD 101

So, how does a novice like me become part of this elite culture and club? Do I have to sell a kidney before I can afford a shoelace or are there different sneakers at all levels of affordability? Will sneaker-cleaning companies wash my R59 takkies from PEP stores and my R200 pair from Mr Price?

"The cheapest sneakers I've cleaned were about R1,000 and the most expensive were around R18,000," says Moteme. "At Dr Shine-A-Lot, we don't look at the price of the sneaker. We clean all sneakers professionally and with the same effort.

"The sneaker business in South Africa is on the rise, as trading in branded sneakers is quickly growing into a massive industry. My advice is that you must know the common hurdles, in the form of middlemen and raffles. These practices have left a trail for counterfeiters and scam artists to follow, and most are using social media to outsmart their victims.

"Counterfeit sneakers are nothing new. They've been around for decades but con artists in South Africa are increasingly using social media to find new victims and to add a sense of authenticity to their scams. For example, they'll sell two pairs of high-end sneakers for an incredibly low price. This is an instant red flag for a collector."

Counterfeit sneakers are nothing new ... but con artists in South Africa are increasingly using social media to find new victims
Kabelo Moteme of Dr Shine-A-Lot

One of the ways sneakers become collectibles is through raffles, whether online or live. Sneakerheads pay upfront for the chance to "win" a new limited-run shoe. Should one of them be lucky enough to be selected, they still have to pay the retail price, after parting with hard-earned cash just to be part of the draw.

"If anyone is really interested, just be on the lookout for the different trends. Cape Town plays a huge role in South African sneaker culture, connecting us to the world, and it is currently the hub locally. Johannesburg offers a different take, with streetwear that's created a unique vibe for sneakerheads. This is evident when we look at local designers such Bathu and Drip Footwear SA. They continue to craft a new identity for the South African sneaker culture," says Moteme.

To the average Tom, Dick and Sipho, sneakers are just that. But for sneakerheads, it's all about "beaters" (sneakers worn despite having creases, stains and smells), "B-Grades" (second-hand sneakers sold at a discount), "dead stock" (a release of old sneakers that were unworn and still hold their purchase value) and "BNIB" (Brand New In Box).

Early last year, BRUT, a South African grooming brand, made a commitment to support SMMEs through its Virtual Elevator Pitch. Moteme's Dr Shine-A-Lot was among the recipients, taking home a R100,000 investment.

"Thanks to the cash injection, I could escalate my business to greater heights by utilising paid social media campaigns and buying more equipment. I'm also developing an app that will make the business more accessible to more customers," says Moteme.

"It will be a tracking tool for the customers, allowing them to see the status of their shoes, a notification tool and a client feedback mechanism."


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