!Aice wearing the San-dal, Nyae Nyae 2018
Kalahari Basin, Namibia
The Ju|’hoansi make their hunting sandals from eland skin, the largest antelope in Southern Africa. Only a few San still knew how to make the eland skin sandals, and they shared their ancient shoemaking knowledge with us to re-vive the craft.
Catherine taking foot measures of !Uka, Nyae Nyae 2016
In 2015 a small group of Ju|’hoansi in Nyae Nyae began bringing back the indigenous sandal, in part to establish livelihood opportunities. As hunter-gatherers, the population’s traditional economy was based on food sharing, immediate returns, and social equality.
But for a range of reasons this model is no longer viable, and anno 2018 only a small percentage of food resources is obtained through hunting and gathering. Yet social and family ties remain strong, and the nature of relationships between people is seen as the essence of Ju|’hoansi culture (Marshall 2006 ).
San person tying lace of the eland skin San-dal.
Tsamkxao stitching San-dal.
San person on plantar pressure foot scan
In 2016, with the objective of bringing back the indigenous sandal, to inspire local business and sustainable design, UK based company Vivobarefoot launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign called “The Original San-dal.” Donors pledged funds and received in return a pair of sandals in their size.
Sandal production used to be directly linked to consumption: Local cobblers took exact measurements by tracing each foot’s shape on tanned eland skin, and then created a unique pair.
This system fit with the immediate-return systems of hunter gatherer communities, whereby people obtain a direct return from their labor straight away; delayed reimbursement and large quantities of products thus conflict with such traditional egalitarian societies. But crowdfunding is more in line with the traditional way of supporting sandal production. Orders are given in small batches of 100 pairs, and each pair is made for a specific person. No overstock is created and there are no marginal costs, so a single pair costs as much as each pair in a batch.
!Aice, N!ani, Komtsa working on the San-dals in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, March 2018
Research and more measuring is done with the local cobblers.
The actual place of production becomes less important. Only a small amount of mobile equipment is needed, and a de-centralized economy is thus possible. By 2018 the Kickstarter order had been fulfilled and the cobblers started to produce for the local and global market, organizing their own logistics and preparing to build a semi-permanent cobbling atelier.
If you would like to own a pair of SAN-DALS, purchase them here.