Makarapa’s creator cashes in on hat craze

2010-05-12 00:00

ALFRED Baloyi’s life story reads like something straight out of a fairy tale.

For years, he ran a business making makarapas — hand-cut and painted safety hats — from his shack dwelling at the Ga-Makausi informal settlement.

He would later sell his handiwork at stadia.

Baloyi soon became famous for his wide range of vibrant designs. He even makes personalised makarapas to order.

It’s small wonder that Baloyi soon attracted the attention of established business. It is also largely due to the efforts of big business that Baloyi’s fortunes risen.

Nowadays Baloyi operates from a studio in Sandton, a far cry from the small workshop he once used. His clientele is also no longer limited to local games and tournaments.

Baloyi’s designs left international media wide-eyed during the 2009 Confederations Cup.

The makarapa, like its pioneering manufacturer, is legendary among South African football circles.

The hat is a football fan’s accessory rivalled by perhaps only the vuvuzela.

Several renowned corporations are now lining up behind the former municipal bus cleaner, seizing the opportunity to support this genuine, original South African idea.

As if this isn’t enough, Baloyi has to deal with countless potential marketing and promotion applications in both the business and sporting worlds.

But the original idea behind Baloyi’s makarapa business is, strictly speaking, accidental.

Baloyi made his first makarapa 31 years ago — a matter of necessity after dodging flying bottles at a Kaizer Chiefs game in 1979. Although the hurling of potentially dangerous missiles nowadays is hardly the celebration mode of choice for most fans, Baloyi’s custom-made safety helmets retain their allure.

Baloyi was approached by JSE-listed company Growthpoint Properties Limited with a view to helping him expand his horizons.

“The hope is that the studio will mushroom into a colourful communal upliftment hub for a diversity of entrepreneurs,” said Engelbert Binedell, director of Growthpoint’s Industrial Portfolio, which is valued at nearly R7 billion.

Baloyi himself is determined that his invention should create as much employment as possible and personally trains cutters, painters and artists to be part of his colourful team.

However, he is concerned about unscrupulous copycats already outsourcing the mass production of fake makarapas to foreign shores.

“It brings no employment, no money, no skill and no hope to the people of my country,” says Baloyi.

Sports promoter Grant Nicholls, who has been supporting his old friend Baloyi for many years, recalls how Baloyi used to work from his tin shack.

“For 30 years, Alfred Baloyi has worked from his shack and from my own back garden, but his is a big, bright, beautiful vision which needs the faith and support of big business partners to grow,” says Nicholls.

Apart from ongoing financial support, Nicholls ensured the makarapa was granted initial trademark protection and registered Baloyi’s Makarapa.com and Makarapa.co.za web sites.

 

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