There is a tiny kingdom landlocked in the heart of South Africa. Before it became known as Lesotho, it was called Basutoland, founded by a great leader called Moshoeshoe/Moshweshwe. Before he was the first king of Basutoland, he was a brave young warrior named Menkhoaneng, chief of the Likoena/Crocodile Clan. His assumed name is a thing of legend. It’s believed he won a great victory, and composed a lithoko, or praise poem, where he stated:
...is the sound of a razor as it shaves a face. So Menkhoaneng took the warrior name Moshoeshoe. Great leaders like Moshoeshoe know there’s a time to fight & a time to make peace. By defending his mountain stronghold when forced, and negotiating whenever possible, Basutoland was never conquered nor colonized.
170+ years ago, French missionaries presented an indigo colored fabric to Moshoeshoe. He adopted it as the fabric of the Basotho. They called it Shoeshoe. It bares the name of this legendary king and we use it to share the Basotho story & identity with the outside world.
My background is not in fashion, business or design. I grew up in Houston, Texas. My parents created in me a love for travel at an early age. Through my travels I developed a passion for understanding how and why things are the way they are. So I ran off to upstate New York and earned a degree in Politics at Ithaca College. Immediately after, I earned my MSc in Conflict Resolution & Governance from Universiteit van Amsterdam. Then it was off to the Peace Corps.
This path is not what I imagined for myself but I fell in love with Lesotho during Peace Corps. I was posted in a tiny village called Thoteng, in the Ha Rankakala system of villages, where my Mosotho mother gave me the name Themba. Unfortunately, village politics squandered my first year in Thoteng. The isolation of life deep in Drakensberg mountains started to eat away at my positivity, and I needed to start something. It was in this tiny village where I developed a plan to combine two unique and abundant resources: the power of Basotho communities and the beautiful shoeshoe fabric. We got started in April 2015 and haven't looked back.
I left Peace Corps before completing my service. I wouldn't trade my time in Peace Corps for anything in the world, but there were aspects about the organization that distressed me. I could no longer stay in an organization where I felt like doing nothing was more celebrated than trying something bold and different. Not to discount the organization or their 50 years in Lesotho, I think the country deserves more than that. The people face so much hardship, and I created Bow Shoeshoe as a means of helping as many lives and communities as I possibly can.
Edward Wycliff / Themba Mthembu
(+1) 281.451.0251 & (+266) 5683.1436
My name is Katleho. That is a Sesotho word that means "Success". I was born in a village called Hilltop, next to the village where abuti Themba was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I met him at my graduation ceremony. We were celebrating that I had graduated from Lerotholi Polytechnic with a certificate in Water Engineering. It was then that we spoke about a project that Themba had in mind. He showed me the product, and I too learned to sew. Then we started planning how we would train our community, the community that I grew up in.
I am a co-founder of Bow Shoeshoe and my current role is as a Training and Production Manager for the community groups we work with. I also lead a small team that develops Bow Shoeshoe's new products and we handle custom designs. I am very interested to see where this opportunity will take us. I am happy to have an opportunity to create something and to help the people of my community and my country. We have been honored to have success. Even King Letsie III has some of our ties.
Bow Shoeshoe is my way creating a sustainable future for the people I've become so close to. I am fascinated by international development and I'm dedicating myself towards developing a model of development centered around social entrepreneurship, a model that works from the ground up to build stronger communities and lasting opportunities instead of the lasting institutions and incidental change that has defined the history of foreign investment and the development apparatus over the past century in Lesotho.
Methods of Production: Community-based vs Factory-based
The world is seeing a shift in what consumers want to consume. We want to know where our products come from, what goes into their production and that the people behind those products are being treated fairly.
Over the past decade there has been a shift in garment production. Due to the African Growth & Opportunity Act, "Developing Nations" can export garments tariff free to the United States. That has changed things in Lesotho. The garment industry employs 40,000 Basotho. It has made Lesotho the largest exporter of garments from Sub Saharan Africa to the United States. This agreement brings a multi-billion dollar opportunity to industry in Africa.
However, where there is opportunity, there is exploitation. Chinese manufacturers are moving production centers to African nations. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the spirit of AGOA centers around African growth and African opportunity, not growth and opportunity for whomever happens to be working in Africa. Basotho, mainly Basotho women, provide the labor in these factories while Chinese manage Basotho workers with contracts from American companies. For sustainable growth, people must be invested in. Lesotho's human capital must be enhanced, and simply put, the purpose of factory centered garment production is not the development of human capital.
Bow Shoeshoe utilizes a community driven production model. We train entire communities, in a place that is comfortable and centrally located. We bring the necessary tools and resources to our producers, building our model of production around the people. We work with groups of 30-40 Basotho producers, also managed by Basotho. Our producers are never obligated to work. We train them and notify them of the dates for the production sessions in their community. They can attend, or take care of more important activities, and know that their job is safe and waiting for them whenever they are able.