I couldn’t believe my luck when we saw the “Tsonga” sign. I recognized the name immediately. It’s a South African brand of handmade comfort footwear that’s sold all over the world. When I saw the brand name for the first time at Nordstrom several years ago, I suspected that the item would have African heritage. And sure enough, marked in two distinct places on each shoe are the words: “made in South Africa”.
And here we were, in the middle of rural nowhere in South Africa, driving past their factory. Can you believe it. Hah! Intrigued and excited, I dragged Greg and his parents off to see what Tsonga was all about.
We followed the sign along a narrow dirt road to get to the Tsonga premises, which are situated at the foot of the Drakensberg mountain range in Kwazulu-Natal (South Africa). Tsonga looks more like a farm than a factory. So, so beautiful. We parked the car outside the entrance and walked into the factory shop, a small retail space attached to their factory that sells their products at lower prices. It’s always worth looking at factory shops if you’re bargain minded.
The shop was pretty fancy and I was impressed. While my parents-in-law and I were fitting on numerous pairs of shoes, I couldn’t help but notice that the windows and doors of the shop opened out onto a lovely grassy courtyard. It was filled with rural African women sitting on benches singing, yakking and laughing as they skillfully hand stitched shoes. Wow. I was blown away. The entire setting and ambiance at Tsonga was moving. Serene, friendly, productive, and professional. A highly unusual set-up for any production line.
There is a lot of poverty in the rural areas of South Africa. Basic needs, such as housing, food, healthcare and education, are scarce and heart breakingly below par. In the light of these socio-economic conditions, the Tsonga story is especially heartwarming because the brand was established to empower women in the nearby rural village by creating jobs:
“Using their meticulous skills, a community of women are uplifting themselves by crafting Tsonga shoes, turning their abilities into a real future for their children. They are not only stitching a spirit of our African heritage, but the very essence of hope into each Tsonga shoe they sew”.
Back in the shop, my eye caught a pair of creamy, bone-coloured driving shoes, or loafers. They fit perfectly, provide ample support and are as soft as my slippers. Very classic, flat and not everyone’s cup of tea, but they’ll make an excellent pair of transitional weather shoes that can be worn with or without socks. These shoes are about the colour, not the design. They weren’t nearly as appealing in black or brown, but the red was cute too.
Don’t write them off quite yet if you think the style is too classic for your tastes. Loafers can be worn with spunk if the rest of the ensemble is right, and next month I will write a post on how to make traditional shoes look hip.
Like most comfort shoe brands, Tsonga peds are not fashion forward, but they are superbly made and extremely comfortable. I was never drawn to the ultra classic and somewhat casual styles the brand offers in retail America, but with the best selection on home ground, I was able to support the Tsonga cause and bring home a pair that I love (and have already put through their paces).
You can read more online about the current facts and future plans of the Tsonga Thread of Hope Farm. In addition to hand crafted shoes, Tsonga grows fruit and vegetables for the children of the community day care center and has plans to construct a training college. A thread of hope indeed. Watch out for the Tsonga brand when you next shop for shoes and try on a pair of their peds. They might not be fashion forward, but your foot will love the way they feel while your heart remembers the Tsonga story.