Clean Grip Shoe Laundry, founded by Luyanda Mehlomakhulu and Lebogang Mohlala, is a shoe-cleaning business that’s changed the way your sneakers and shoes should be taken care of. This start-up business has created what is essentially a “spa” for your beloved shoe collection.
“It’s not just about washing sneakers or washing footwear, it’s a lifestyle and an art and not just anyone can do it,” says Mohlala.
She says that the idea to start the business came from her own frustration with never knowing how to keep her sneakers clean. She’d chuck them into the washing machine or wash them with detergent and, although her shoes were clean, the colour and quality were often compromised.
“I approached Luyanda, who I knew knew a lot about sneakers, shoes and shoe fabrics. For a few years, Luyanda and I went around the country learning everything we needed to know about shoes, how to effectively clean them, how to get the colour back and how to cure creases. We eventually created a detergent formula that really works,” says Mohlala.
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A big part of the research was finding out how people in the kasi (township) were able to keep their shoes so immaculate, no matter how old they were. The pair learned the different techniques and also taught the shoe owners some of their own tricks. They then recruited some of the them who now work as sneaker technicians in the business.
Some investors tried to take advantage of us, probably because they assumed we weren’t that educated and wouldn’t know what certain things meant.
After this they gathered the sneakers of their friends and family for a trial and error process, which Mohlala adds ruined quite a number of shoes and compromised a few relationships, but it eventually helped them to perfect their craft. Their services now include pick-up and delivery, shoe form correction, deodorising, colour restoration and even custom design elements such as changing your shoes’ colour.
In April 2015 the two launched their business – a journey they say hasn’t always been easy. One of the challenges they faced was gaining trust from their clientele.
“Being black and having a pick-up and delivery service proved to be very difficult in the beginning. People simply didn’t trust that we would bring their shoes back. We’ve had customers who’ve asked if we could rather come wash shoes at their homes instead,” says Mohlala. “We saw this as another element we could actually add to our business.”
Another big challenge was financing their business. In the beginning the duo had an investor, but that fell through because they felt that they were being taken advantage of, which Mohlala attributes to both their age and their race.
“The deal fell through because we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Because we are young and black, some investors tried to take advantage of us, probably because they assumed we weren’t that educated and wouldn’t know what certain things meant,” says Mohlala.
Outside of the business, Mehlomakhulu is involved in property while Mohlala is a writer. They had to use the funds they accumulated from their respective jobs to essentially fund the business. Mohlala also notes that her father played a huge role in keeping the business afloat.
Having started with just the two of them washing and caring for the shoes, Clean Grip Shoe Laundry now employs five people – two delivery guys and three shoe technicians. In just under nine months, they’ve secured a partnership with Nike South Africa and have their sights set on even bigger things.
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“We’re definitely looking at franchising in the future,” says Mohlala. “We’ve already received a couple of offers from the different provinces, but we’re not ready yet. We believe that we need to grow further before we can sell our idea.”
The pair says that they’re also looking to patent and sell their formulation in retail outlets across South Africa and, eventually, throughout the world.
At least now you no longer have to painfully let go of that favourite sneaker that has seen you through the toughest of times. These young and brilliant business minds have proved that through belief in yourself and perseverance, great things can truly come to life.
MOHLALA’S TOP TIPS TO CARING FOR YOUR SNEAKERS:
- Never immerse your shoes in water. “This expands or shrinks your shoe and changes the fit.”
- Never leave your shoes in the sun. “This also expands the shoe, changes the colour and can unthread some of the stitches of the shoe because of the heat.”
- Wipe away stains as quickly as you can. “Use baby wipes or a wet cloth to remove the stain and do this as soon as possible, otherwise it might stain your shoe forever, even if you bring it us.”