Do the makarapa!

Published on August 25th, 2011
Do the makarapa!

Michael Stouter put action to his idea and it’s made him into one of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. Here’s his story and how the makarapa was born.

The makarapa? Where did the idea come from?
The word ‘makarapa’ (or ‘makaraba’) means ‘a person who works away from home’ – a migrant worker. Wearing a miner’s helmet was a status symbol because it meant you had a job so wearing your helmet when you returned home or attended a match was ‘cool’. The concept was started in the late 1970s by South African soccer fans who cut up and painted their miners’ helmets in the colours of their teams to show their passion and loyalty to their teams.

What inspired you to start the business?
The story of Makoya Makaraba began in 2003, when I attended a Kaizer Chiefs match in Cape Town and was fascinated by these brilliant head creations worn by the South African soccer supporters. As a graphic designer who is involved in creating brands I thought that this was fantastic! I then created a series of paintings that I thought the corporates would love to have to hang in their receptions or boardroom areas to showcase how their brand is embraced in South Africa. But I was ahead of my time in 2004. The people in these companies who make the decisions obviously didn’t attend local soccer matches because they didn’t understand or even know about these hats and quite frankly didn’t seem to care.

I also realised that there was a great resistance towards the makarabas because they were seen to be ‘illegal merchandise’.

How did the business start?
With South Africa having been given the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, I began a very small community project in my garage. Initially the project had one cutter and one painter and my graphic design company initially underwrote the project.

During the day I would work as a graphic designer and in the evenings I did the design work for the makarabas. The makarabas were sold through craft markets and soon captivated the English tourists. In order to broaden our marketing opportunities, I taught myself web design. Burning the midnight oil over a 12-month period, I designed and created the website for Makoya Makaraba. In 2008 when the website was launched, the concept of makarabas was introduced to an international audience and soon we were receiving orders for single, customised hats as well as small collections of the headgear from overseas. As the demand for makarabas grew with the approaching World Cup, I was able to train more men in the skill of crafting makarabas. Without funding, grants, sponsorship from the corporate sector or international donors, the project has trained and encouraged 20 men.

What was the most challenging part of the start-up process?
It would have to be lack of finances.

Any words of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Grit, determination, stamina, a passion for what you do and sheer determination are what you need to succeed.