Shoe-wow! Self-taught Jeppestown artist customising sneakers, stilettos

Painting was not the first love of painter Thobile Ntuli.
Ntuli’s customised art on sneakers, high heels and stilettos has even grabbed the attention of people from abroad.
She is grateful her business is booming amid trying times during Covid-19.
When Covid-19 hit South African shores, the economy was halted and businesses were hit hard – with small businesses the most affected.

But 38-year-old Thobile Ntuli’s business of customising shoes, and turning it into fine pieces of art, has been booming. And she is grateful.

The artist, who resides in Jeppestown in Johannesburg, is thankful that her magic with a paint and brush is putting food on the table for her family during these trying times.

Ntuli, from Mtubatuba, a town north of Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, started teaching herself to paint in 2017 – and then registered her business in 2018.

Speaking during a telephonic interview with News24 on Friday, passion and excitement were evident in Ntuli’s tone as she spoke about her business and how it came to life.

The University of Zululand Bachelor of Arts in Acting graduate said her business of customising sneakers and heels was motivated when her gig as an assistant director for productions was placed on halt due to financial difficulties at the SABC in 2017.

“The idea of [customising] sneakers came from the frustrations of not going to be having money for a time, that was [unknown]. So the inspiration came from there, and I was like, I need to do something different, but something that would appeal to everyone; the old, the youth,” Ntuli said.

She had also been motivated by world renowned Ndebele artist, Dr Esther Mahlangu, she added.

And, so, she got right to it and started teaching herself the art of painting.

She admits her first painting was not so nice – though it somehow got positive feedback when she posted it on her social media pages.

She registered her business in 2018 and decided to name it “LuthiCreatives”.

Luthi was her late grandmother’s name, from her father’s side of the family.

Ntuli said there was no other meaningful name she could think of. She felt it was fitting to honour her grandmother for supporting her and her sibling, with their father having been absent in their lives.

“I call myself a dangerous risk-taker. I have done almost everything. After I did a BA degree in Acting I got a job as a dramatic arts teacher at a high school and taught for a year, but in two months I realised this is not me.

“I quit that job and sat at home for about five years. I bought myself a bass guitar and taught myself, and played maskandi on it.

“In 2008, I gave birth to my son. Five years down the line, I moved to Johannesburg, without even a plan where I was going to sleep. I got my first job in 2014 and I worked up until 2017 when they cancelled the shows we were supposed to shoot.

“I used to do very weird earrings and I believe I have tried everything – but everything I had in mind had nothing to do with paint or sneakers,” the mother of two said.

But once she got her hands on the brush and on her first shoe, she never looked back.

The self-taught artist said:

I prayed about the [painting], saying I needed something that was going to work, that was going to pay bills and take care of my [autistic] son and be able to take him to speech therapy and take care of my mother and my other son. I prayed over the very first sneaker I painted.
Ntuli said she only uses social media to advertise her work, and was grateful that her clients were also spreading the word, thereby bringing in more clients.

When lockdown came, she had no idea what the future had in store for her, but was confident that her savings would carry her for quite a while.

As the country moved to Level 4 of lockdown, she applied for a permit and started working again, receiving clients, even from abroad.
I don’t know who said what to whom, but I think two days after Level 4 was announced, I got a bunch of messages on Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook. Everyone is complaining about the lockdown, but I am so grateful that, for now, it is treating me well.


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