This chic collection of cowhide shoes was created as a fundraiser for Empower African Children.
Uwezo’s cowhide oxfords aren’t only fashionable, they’re also heartfelt. In fact, the company’s mission is reflected in its name, which in Swahili means talent, capacity, or ability — attributes founder Alexis Hefley recognizes in the African youth she’s devoted her life to helping.
The label’s roots are planted in East Africa, stemming from Hefley’s 23-year-long career in the nonprofit sector working with children in Uganda. It was while in there that she was inspired to design a cowhide shoe that was not just fashionable but also charitable — as a new way to give back to the communities and people she’d grown close with.
Deciding that a portion of the proceeds from each pair sold would be donated to Empower African Children, the nonprofit she cofounded in 2006 to provide quality education and leadership programs for Ugandan youth, Hefley transitioned to a role on the board and officially launched her shoe label out of Dallas in 2014. The inherent individuality of her hair-on-cowhide sneakers paid off quickly, and it wasn’t long before she was expanding Uwezo’s collection to include new styles and hides.
It’s a fun shoe. I’ve never sold a shoe that the person leaving [wasn’t] really happy and excited to wear. No two [pairs] are alike. Each one is unique, and people are excited about that.
They’re also comfortable, featuring memory foam insoles, and better still, their cowhide shells are easily washable and resilient. “The unique thing about these shoes is [the cowhide] doesn’t rub off,” Hefley says. “If you jump in a mud puddle with them you can spray them off with a hose. I think it’s a fun alternative to a cowboy boot. People in the farm and ranch and livestock business appreciate it, because they understand the fabric of the cowhide and seeing it being utilized in that way is fun.”
Beyond the Western lifestyle, Uwezo’s shoes, loafers, and mules have proven to have universal appeal. Hefley even cites bridal parties as buying her shoes to complete their looks for the big day. “It’s a happy shoe,” she enthuses.
The collection currently includes six styles, three for women and three for men, each of which can be ordered in the hide of your choosing - black and white, brown and white, or brindle.
Featured in the Summer 2018 issue of C&I's sister publication, Western & English Today.
PHOTOGRAPHY: courtesy Uwezo