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!Aice wearing the San-dal,  Nyae Nyae 2018


Kalahari Basin, Namibia

The San-dal project: a project that asks you to tread
lightly on the earth.

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. The Ju|’hoansi make their hunting sandals from eland skin, the largest antelope in Southern Africa. But for a range of reasons this model is no longer viable, and anno 2015 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 ).



In April 2015 two design students,
Sophie Verclyte and Flora Blommaert of KASK & Conservatorium, School of Arts Ghent, lived and worked with the Ju|’hoansi in Nhoma, Namibia.
Under the supervision of Catherine Willems and funded by Vivobarefoot, they collaborated on reviving the almost extinct craft of the hunting sandal and its biomechanics.


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.

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. The original sandal positions the knots of the laces under the sole, which is only suitable for sandy environments. A decision was made to add an extra sole to the original sandal, and use a stitch that connects the insole to the outsole. With these and other simple design interventions, the sandal was made suitable
for urban wear.

!Aice, N!ani, Komtsa working on the San-dals in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, March 2018

The shoemakers continued production for the Kickstarter order.  In August 2017 intern masters student Jolien Deceuninck of KASK & Conservatorium helped to build a new shoemakers’ atelier in collaboration with the
local villagers. The materials were provided by FFF. In this atelier close to Nhoma (Jaq’na), more than half of the order generated from the Kickstarter campaign was produced. The space turned out not only to be well
located, in terms of transport and as a place of interest and interaction, but it also increased the production rate. Due to an accident with the solar batteries the atelier burned down a few months later. As everything was destroyed and new solar panels were not available, production was temporarily relocated to the Craft Centre in Tsumkwe, Namibia.



Towards a Low Carbon Workshop.By 2018 the Kickstarter order had been fulfilled and the idea of building a new, more solid atelier near Nhoma started to grow.  In connection with the availability of natural resources and in line with the traditions of the Ju|’hoansi, the local villagers developed an idea for a future crafts building. The new atelier provides an inside workspace, a central open area with a fireplace, and a storage room to keep the materials, skins, and finished crafts away from the sunlight. This atelier needs to be durable to cope with natural forces such as bushfires and heavy storms. To blend in with nature, an atelier was developed with earth bag walls. Ownership of the workspace lies with the community, this means the cobblers carry the project into the future, giving it meaning and exploring new approaches to sustainable design. The workspace will eventually fully function on solar energy, making it a unique carbon low production facility.


In 2019, IKunta Bo the headman of Doupos - sat down with Willems, both skilled as shoemakers they re-made the ‘IIorkos’, the sandal for hunting. They worked the skin and spoke about the sandal, hunting and the connection with healing dances. Indeed, this traditional sandal, which has been tested over many generations, is not only a beautiful (and functional) object, but also a fascinating source for understanding the maker’s mindset and worldview. It became clear that the making of the sandal is very much linked to the hunt, of which the eland skin is a by-product.



By the end of 2020, we had gathered enough funding to begin the implementation of the earth bag building. The work started in late 2020 with the construction of a steel roof, followed by the foundation of the earth bag building. Although COVID-19 delayed the process, the building was inaugurated at the end of 2022. The first 100% solar-based sandal workshop in Namibia, and possibly even worldwide, began operating in early 2023. All cobblers and local villagers helped with the building under the supervision of Flora Blommaert and David Willems, a Belgium-based photographer and builder who documented the construction of the earth bag building. This pioneering project would not have been possible without the generous support of various funders, including Vivobarefoot.


Vivobarefoot has been instrumental not only in securing the necessary funding for this project but, more importantly, in committing to a long-term partnership. This long-term commitment is a significant step towards promoting sustainable footwear and supporting local cobbling communities.


If you would like to own a pair of SAN-DALS, purchase them

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