The African Sneaker Market Is Stepping Up

Published 20 days ago
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Wandile Sibisi of RareStep (Image Supplied)

From Davido to the dude on the street, the continent’s sneaker culture is appealing to everyone, in turn, spurring local design, innovation and entrepreneurship. We sprint across the continent for more examples of the footwear redefining African cool.

Fashion trends have long been influential, but perhaps none more so than the phenomenon of sneakers infiltrating everyday style.

According to the Statista Global Consumer Survey, sneakers have become an integral part of the wardrobe for 40% of consumers, highlighting a significant shift in fashion preferences. This trend is particularly pronounced in Africa, where the sneakers segment is experiencing robust strides, with revenue projected to reach $2.17 billion this year, showing a growth rate of 1.5% in 2025, and volume estimated at 39.46 million pairs by 2028.

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Low-top sneakers lead the market. Many countries in Africa experience warm to hot climates for a significant part of the year. This, combined with the rise in streetwear culture, presents significant opportunities for entrepreneurs on the continent to leverage the sneaker value chain to meet consumer preferences towards casual wear. Low-top sneakers, with their ankle-baring design, offer a more breathable and comfortable option compared to high-top counterparts. The lightweight and airy nature of low-tops makes them suitable for the region’s weather conditions, contributing to their growing demand.

As per Statista, it is expected that there will be an annual growth rate of 5.52% until 2028 on the continent, with global giants such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Lacoste, and Asics already entrenching themselves in the market through strategic partnerships and expansions. Adidas’s Johannesburg flagship store in 2021, for instance, marked a significant milestone in the brand’s African presence, drawing attention and enthusiasm from consumers.

Similarly, Nike’s foray into West Africa, in partnership with Hudson Group, two years ago with two flagship stores in Lagos, underscores the region’s importance in the global sneaker landscape.

This is in addition to existing retail outlets across the continent in Kenya and South Africa.

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Lacoste and Puma are also expanding across Nigeria in partnership with Persianas Retail, a local company offering products through physical stores, wholesale distributors, and its e-commerce platform known as TheMix. Nigerian Afrobeats star Davido also has a paid partnership with Puma since 2021, and launched a collection titled ‘We Rise by Lifting Others’ with the brand last year.

In South Africa, local entrepreneurs have also seized on this burgeoning market, capitalizing on the continent’s diverse cultures and streetwear scene. At the top of the chain, the sneaker market is particularly on the rise in South Africa, home to Bathu (a common universal slang word primarily used in townships across the country to describe a shoe), Hibacci and RareStep, with the sneakers segment, as per Statista, projected to generate a revenue of $232 million this year, driven by a growing demand for limited edition releases and collaborations.

After a challenging 18 months, Bathu, known for its mesh shoes, was launched on September 19, 2016. It was so popular that their website reportedly crashed due to high demand. Andrew Lale, the co-founder of Bathu, told FORBES AFRICA in an exclusive interview a year later that this was because people felt an affiliation with the name and loved the story behind the shoes.

“We analyzed trends; hip-hop was a genre big in South Africa and we realized that most young cats, including me, spend too much money on sneakers and we consume too many foreign brands, more than our own [brands],” Lale said.

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Theo Baloyi, CEO of Bathu and a FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker in 2019, had also noted in 2021 that the business is booming and they had almost 30 stores at the time across the country since making the list when they only had three stores.

The update available on Bathu’s website shows “it has now grown exponentially over the years, with 32 stores nationwide and a staff complement of over 300 employees, who are predominantly youth.”

“It has been really incredible because obviously with FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 recognition, it has helped build our credentials. First, as Theo Baloyi, a young entrepreneur in Africa, it has really opened up markets for me to engage with other favorable entrepreneurs,” Baloyi told FORBES AFRICA in the interview.

Baloyi had hinted at plans “to penetrate the SADC region in the next two years and Central Africa in the next five years, and East Africa in 10 years” when he made the list.

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But inspiring Wandile Sibisi’s RareStep, a South African online store for exclusive, authentic, limited-edition sneakers, and high-end streetwear, might not have occurred to him.

Taking a cue from Baloyi, Sibisi last year co- founded RareStep with Michael Zahariev and Luke Calitz, who brings extensive experience from LUXITY, one of Africa’s largest pre-owned luxury marketplaces.

Although Sibisi shares a similar story with established local sneaker-makers; he fell in love with the global sneaker culture from a young age as an entrepreneur and did not see a gap for another local sneaker brand. Instead, he looked overseas, with his interests and ambitions largely influenced by American sneaker culture.

“RareStep is positioned to revolutionize the sneaker resale scene in South Africa and beyond. Challenges in the industry persist, particularly concerning limited allocations from global brands like Nike and Adidas to the local market. However, leveraging our global partnerships and technological prowess, we have devised innovative solutions. For instance, our upcoming cross- border e-commerce strategy will enhance our offerings, ensuring a wider range of sneakers in various sizes, including sought- after exclusives. Additionally, our reservation policy and lifetime authenticity guarantee reflect our commitment to democratizing access to limited releases while ensuring customer satisfaction,” Sibisi shares with FORBES AFRICA.

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Despite challenges less than a year into operations, RareStep is resolute in strategically positioning itself to capitalize on the burgeoning market.

“While traditional footwear sales dominate, the rise of e-commerce, coupled with increasing consumer demand for exclusive sneakers, underscores a shifting paradigm. RareStep recognizes the importance of an omnichannel approach, bridging online and offline experiences to cater to diverse consumer preferences.

“In navigating this evolving landscape, we remain focused on innovation and customer-centricity. Our commitment to authenticity, demonstrated through stringent authentication processes and partnerships with third-party verification services, ensures consumer trust and confidence in every purchase,” Sibisi explains.

He emphasizes “caution to avoid counterfeit products as the demand for rare sneakers continues to surge”.

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As in South Africa, every other region, from the east to the west, has produced innovative local sneaker-makers and entrepreneurs.

Ethiopian businesswoman Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu dared to challenge the norms of the footwear industry.

In 2005, she founded soleRebels, not just as a business venture but as a movement to celebrate African craftsmanship and sustainability.

Alemu’s vision was simple yet profound: to merge her Ethiopian community’s rich artisanal heritage with eco-conscious practices. Drawing inspiration from the resilient spirit of Ethiopian rebel fighters, soleRebels crafted shoes from recycled materials, notably the iconic barabasso — Ethiopian recycled tire shoes.

Four visionary high school friends from Kenya — Sam Imende, Jawad Braye, Christian Ward, and Azariah Mengistu — realized the possibility of creating an upscale African sneaker brand by harnessing Ethiopia’s burgeoning manufacturing capabilities. Under the banner of Enzi Footwear, they blend tradition with modernity, crafting sneakers that exude elegance and authenticity.

There are more such examples across the continent. Harnessing the rich culture of running, Navalayo Osembo and Weldon Kennedy co-founded Enda in 2016, marking the inception of the first Kenyan-made running shoe.

The journey of KEEXS began with the personal challenges faced by its founder, Babajide Ipaye. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ipaye found himself wearing his dad’s shoes at the age of nine due to his large feet. Tragically, he lost both parents in a car crash at the age of 11 and was subsequently raised as an only child by his extended family.

As he matured, so did his shoe size, reaching a US size 14 (Euro 48), making it a constant struggle to find shoes that not only fit but also offered the colors and designs he desired. Thus, KEEXS was born from a fusion of ‘KICKS’ and ‘KEEK’, as Ipaye decided to craft his own footwear.

In 2015, Ipaye, who had been a tech entrepreneur since 2005, teamed up with his friend Moyosore Olowo to initiate a global online crowdfunding campaign to finance the venture.

That same year, Ipaye attended SLEM, an international innovation and training institute for the footwear and leather industries, where he learned the art of crafting sneakers from scratch.

“We realized very quickly that economies of scale is critical to drive the growth of this business therefore there is a need for a lot of capital. There are four sides to this chain; production, design, distribution and retail. The problem with a lot of businesses in Africa is that they are expected to do everything from start to finish along that entire value chain and what that does is, it stifles the growth of the business,” Ipaye told FORBES AFRICA in a 2019 interview.

The initial designs comprised a Fela Kuti collection, featuring approximately six different products, all inspired by the late Nigerian Afrobeats legend. This collection was launched on Kickstarter, and within a span of 40 days, KEEXS reportedly amassed $20,000 in preorders from various corners of the globe. Subsequently, KEEXS collaborated with South Africa’s denim brand, Afrikanswiss, to introduce a collection available in select retail outlets in both countries by the spring of 2017.

Milcos Badji, founder of Dakar-based footwear brand Nio Far, gained recognition for his sneakers crafted from traditional Malian fabric called bogolan in 2014.

While selling at New York’s Marche Rue Dix, he primarily expands his international presence through trade shows, art conventions, and pop-up events in cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, and Lagos. A fortuitous encounter with Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats led to widespread celebrity endorsement, attracting a diverse clientele including Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, NBA stars Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, activist and actor Kendrick Sampson, and French football icon Djibril Cissé.

Cameroon is also not left out, as it presented its first locally designed sneaker brand, ICE, launched in 2021 by Ayissi William.