Nowadays, not only are shoes used to protect foot and provide a comfy walk, they have become materials that describe sense of fashion of individuals and are trending by the day. That is why famous and rich people spend tremendous amount of time to search for good shoes from great shoe designers.
Today, Q&A has invited Mr. Tekle Beyene, a shoe maker who spent almost his entire life in the profession. Starting Working with the Italians when he was young, Mr. Tekle took a life time lesson that made him one of the most talented shoe designers Asmara.
- How did you get into shoe making and designing?
I was born and raised in Asmara and spent almost half of my life in Ethiopia. I met Mr. Cipollini when I was a 12-years-old boy through one of my relatives. Mr. Cipollini was a famous Italian shoe maker who liked me a lot and I liked him, too. As a result, he was spending most of his time with me. He took me everywhere he went to work with him. I learned shoe making and designing skills from him. I fell in love with shoe making, especially with designing.
Mr. Cipollini was like a father. He covered all my school and other expenses. We were very close. By the time I was 14, Cipollini took me to Ethiopia with him. He had a shoe shop there where I worked. Working there helped me gain much more experience and master my skills in the field. It was a time when good quality shoe was exported to foreign countries from Ethiopia, so I guess I had all the knowledge I needed from there.
- You were a sportsperson as well, how did you became a cyclist?
At the time we were in Ethiopia, Mr. Cipollini brought a bicycle for me. To be honest at that time having a bicycle was a very big thing, because the Eritrean people were under colonization and they were only thinking about how to manage their day to day life. Every aspect of life was restricted. So I was very happy and I felt like I was special. I took my bicycle everywhere I went. Then, there was some kind of cycling competition and I thought why I don’t participate in that cycling race. So I started to train myself. At that time, the cyclists were cycling without full ordnance of cycling. And I knew that was hard but I was curious about cycling. With all the challenges I managed to finish first place. Everybody was surprised; even the news reached all over Eritrea.
- Why did you stop cycling then?
As I told you, cycling was hard back then. There were not enough supplies, so it didn’t encourage me to continue not only that. You can call it passion or addiction whenever I was all I wanted to do was designing shoe and that was my second reason for stopping.
- How did you get into dancing ?
From the beginning of my life I have been curious trying everything. I have been trying everything I see or hear about. Therefore, dancing was the result of that. When I was with Mr. Cipollini, he used to take me everywhere. So, I was able to know a lot of things when I was very little. Sometimes we used to go to dancing clubs. When we came back home I used to repeat everything that I saw. That way I liked dancing. Then, in Ethiopia, one American guy opened a dancing school and I started to learn dancing there. I was paying 5 birr only for an hour. I took dancing very seriously and I was repeating all we had learnt passionately and I remember that I used to repeat the choreography of world famous singers and dancers. Finally, there was a dancing competition, around 50 pairs of dancers were ready to compete including me. Out of all the participants I won and got the first prize from Emperor Haileslasie. Following that I used to teach dancing to a lot of people in Ethiopia, 1 of the places was Behierawi Theater. I stopped everything and came back to Eritrea to meet my family.
- As a winner in dance competition, how did you find dancing In Eritrea?
I thought about opening a school and teach dancing. I found a place around the Kidanemhret market and started to train Eritreans.
- So did you go back to Ethiopia or you stayed in Eritrea?
Dancing was really fun and great but as I told you earlier, I couldn’t stop myself from shoe making and designing. The love of shoe making and designing is engraved in my heart. Therefore, with one Ethiopian friend of mine, we opened up our own factory, “Keren shoe factory”, in 1968. Our factory was established with a small amount of capital and had 132 permanent workers and 63 temporary trained workers.
- Why did you call the shoe factory “KEREN”?
Well, we Eritreans have different kind of national feeling, it really is surprising. We might go so far away from our country but the love and nationality has been in our body like our blood. As I was in the middle of the exploitative system that tried to destroy everything Eritrean I thought this was the simplest way to represent my country.
- What was next?
Again, I came back to Eritrea and I started to work at Bini Shoe Factory. I was working hard at Bini Shoe Factory and I made 13 designs for children, women and men. But the Italians did not want me to work with them, as they only wanted my designs. After that betrayal I left the shoe factory and opened my own shoe shop around Asmara.
- Did you continue working in Asmara?
No, I did not. Everything changed when the Derg regime came. Soon after the Derg nationalized all the factories, the productivity was decreasing. Therefore, as I was famous in shoe designing, the government wanted me to work with them in order to increase the productivity so the only option for me was to keep quiet and work. At that time, my salary was not enough so claiming that I was sick I stopped working for them. Then I went back to Ethiopia to my factory. In my factory with my partner we were working so hard to the extent that we won an award out of all the factories engaged on shoe making and designing throughout Africa. After all of that, I came to Eritrea before independence and I am living here.
- Final words…?
As you can see I’m not working because I have not found a place to work. All I have found is a place to in. As of now, if I can get a place I want to work and I want to transfer all the skills I have to the next generation. I’m getting older so I have to transfer my knowledge and educate the next generation about shoe making and designing. Besides, during colonization the work we did was known as Ethiopian product, though, the workers and the designers were mainly Eritreans. So we, Eritreans, have all the power and skills, we just have to work on it. And that way we can bring back the fame that we had on shoe making and designing.
- Thank you for your time, Mr. Tekle!