From patching shoes and soccer balls in the township, this young entrepreneur built an award-winning leather business
- Growing up in an Eastern Cape township, Simo Sizani's family couldn't afford new shoes.
- He was given leather to patch his owns shoes - which eventually sparked an award-winning business, and landed him famed Laduma Ngxokolo as a mentor.
- His ultimate, is to attract the attention of dealers such as BMW and Maybach.
- For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa
Simo Sizani’s company, Blaqmor, specialises in manufacturing high quality hand-crafted leather goods from bags and wallets to watch straps, backpacks, laptop bags and, of late, leather key cases.
"I want a guy who drives a R3 million car to look at my leather key cases and think it makes sense for him to buy them because my key cases complement their car," says Simo.
He didn’t get interested in leather by choice, though.
Growing up in Ilinge in Queenstown, money was very tight. Sizani’s mother would bring home pieces of leather that she collected from her work as a cleaner. The leather would be used to patch Sizani’s shoes – she would also stitch together various goods which would be sold to supplement the household income. Sizani was often roped in to help his mother stitch, and his love of leather grew from there.
As a teenager he started patching shoes and the soccer balls of friends in the township. “I started loving the irresistible smell of leather.”
People in his neighbourhood would mock him and tell him “uzoba sisishumane’ meaning he would end up alone because girls wouldn’t want to date a guy who stitched leather products.
Sizani wanted to study clinical engineering, but could not afford to do so. Once he finished school, he had to work to support his family. He joined a contractor which serviced valves at power stations. It was while working there, that he started studying mechanical engineering, in a bid to advance his career opportunities.
To earn extra cash during this time, he started making and selling bags to his colleagues. “People were fascinated by my craft and the designs, and I realised I can make a go of this,” he told Business Insider.
He decided to go for broke and quit his job and engineering studies to go into crafting leather work full time.
He registered his company Blaqmor leather in 2015.
In 2018, he received his first big break when he won the Chivas Regal National Design Award. The win saw him gaining international designer and founder of Maxhosa by Laduma, Laduma Ngxokolo as a business mentor.
“I treasured being selected by Laduma, it was a blessing on its own. To have someone who recognised my craft and potential meant the world to me,” he says.
“I can call on him any time for advice, he taught me how to pay attention to the finer detail. It has been a great experience.”
Sizani was also part of the Tsogo Sun entreuprenership programmme for 2019. “Being a creative, I had to learn the business side of things,” Sizani adds.
His first products were high end handcrafted, hand stitched leather bags. They are made from high quality genuine leather and come in all shapes, colours, and sizes. He specialises in laptop bags, sling bags, back packs, wallets and cardholders.
With the leftover material from the bags, he started playing around with smaller products. Initially he wanted to do knife cases but soon realised there wasn’t a huge market for that.
He started thinking about what people value most, and realised people attach a lot of value to their cars.
He wanted to design premium leather key cases that would complement the car and also be stylish, protective and eco friendly. To make these designs extra special he switched from genuine leather to Veg-tan leather. Veg-tan leather uses organic materials, such as tree bark and vegetable oil instead of chemicals to tan the leather. The benefits are that it ages well and it is also environmentally-friendly.
He collected replicas of car keys so he could make accurate designs. He wanted to imitate the car key buttons on the leather key cases so that the cases don’t only look good aesthetically, but can also be practical.
The car key cases retail for R480 and orders can be placed online.
“Next year we may launch a shoe range – custom made shoes,” he adds.
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