Who Knew Sneakers Such As NIKE’s Air Force 1 Could Make A Mean Mbadada Shoes?


May 18, 2022, 3:25 a.m.

Meet the South African musician taking street fashion to the next level

Who knew one could convert sneakers such as Nike Air force 1, trainers or any sneakers with air technology into a mean Mbadada shoe? Although it sounds new, it is not much of a surprise as Africa, recently, is brimming with creativity and innovation. One such innovator is Thando Simelane, a South African musician who is taking street fashion to another gear.

Thando Simelane is a 29-year-old Musician, Designer, Marketer and Data Analyst. He was born in a South African township called Alexander in the North of Johannesburg. He was raised in between Alex and Rabie Ridge, Midrand.

Thando grew in popularity in Joburg and Cape Town through his designs and music. In 2015 Thando started a clothing line called Ubucwebe that focused on accessories. Through this, he also earned some popularity by being part of the emerging creative of the 2019 Design Indaba for the brand (Ubucwebe). However, the business dissolved in 2019 because he felt unchallenged by the brand’s direction. This led to him releasing music with his first single called Egoli meaning Joburg in Zulu (A South African native language). The song became so popular that it earned a sync deal with alcohol brand Hunters Cider in 2020 - 2022.

“I grew up raised by both parents, in a fast city, basically being raised to become fast thinkers. Like any Joburg person, you are raised to speak different languages, almost all 11 official languages and some slang. In my household I grew up with RNB, Kwaito, House/Dance music Bubblegum and Hip Hop being the soundtracks to life, the only thing different I experienced from my siblings were moving to different schools, and towns that introduced me to travel a lot, I think that’s because I am my mom’s firstborn so I had to know things to teach my siblings.”


Thando Simelane

“My first musical memory was my older cousin teaching me how to do the west coast hand sign with some Tupac music in the back. I think that is when I fell in love with music because ever since then I like songs with passionate lyrics.”

“I have recorded a lot of music since 2010, some released, some not. I started making music through a South African Hip Hop sub-genre called Kasi rap while in high school and when I went to Varsity I started wanting to develop my own style. In 2015 I stopped recording and putting out music till 2017 when I started doing it slowly then I proceeded to record in 2018, started releasing in 2019 and released my first full music in 2021 called “A Fair Warning”.

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How the Air Mbadada project began

Being a fashionista as well, Thando grew up watching 101 Dalmatians and Cruella De Vil which left him in awe and had him questioning why people did not dress like this in real life because it looked awesome. Thando says his style is more in research of culture, especially being born in Joburg one never experiences a true native cultural and traditional life people in the rural areas experience. From that, he decided to explore different South African cultures and mix them with his modern township and urban feel of Joburg.

The Air Mbadada started as a cool project of mixing the traditional Zulu Mbadada sandal and the modern-day sneaker technology. From the process, Thando and his partner discovered a solution to the Zulu sandal as the sandal was uncomfortable when worn for two hours. With an understanding of sneakers, “we saw that their outsoles would be perfect for comfort as they are made and built for that reason.”


Air Mbadada

In 2019, he and his business partner collaborated with a Thai designer based in Cape Town, Chu Suwannapha famous for his pattern work designs. They collaborated through their Air Mbadada upcycling sneaker which in 2022 has already been featured on mega South African publications such as City Press, Business Insider, SAFM, Daily Sun and CGTN Africa. The fashion icon requested a few pairs of shoes that would be worn at the Durban Fashion Fair 2019 along with his designer apparel.

The upcycling process currently, is cutting up old sneakers and adding the Mbadada strips to the sneaker outsole to present the idea. The project has caught the attention of organizations such as Sneakers4Change, an NGO where people donate sneakers to people in need who cannot afford them.

Currently, Thando is not commercialising the sneakers as he feels he has not reached the final stage to be consumed. “Once we have achieved commercializing the current design, we want to focus on researching more African footwear that can be developed to modern-day standards of footwear.”


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Verny Joy Author

Verny loves to write poetry, fiction and quotes. Her love for writing landed her in journalism. She loves gadgets and travelling to explore new places.