How Pilferage On An African Airline Inspired A New Accessory

I have the worst luck flying into OR Tambo Airport. Since I began flying to South Africa in 2011, I have had my bags broken into 100% of the time. There is no margin of error with regard to that statistic. No matter what flight/airline I’ve traveled on – be it Delta Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic, or South African Airways, or FlySafair – I am guaranteed to have some item lifted from my bags.

I have locked them.

I have zip-tied them.

I have tried stowing ratty looking luggage to make it appear as though a poor woman was flying and therefore had nothing worthy of lifting.

Nothing has worked.

In the past, the theft has amounted to little more than a few trinkets or personal items: shoes for needy kids I’d befriended in Bossiegif, a pair of head phones. One time, baggage handlers even stole my pack of sanitary napkins. Regardless, I at least always got my bag at the end of the conveyor belt. However during our transition from Atlanta in 2016, I became one of the thousands of people who have had their luggage either delayed or lost for perpetuity during air travel. I wrote extensively about this last year. Long time readers of MOM will well remember my angst. You don’t want me to rehash it and I don’t want to relive all the angry tweets (especially with Virgin’s twitter account!) so we’ll move on.

I am an unabashed shoe whore, a condition I developed as a result of growing up shod in the secondhand shoes of other people’s secondhand shoes. Getting new shoes was a rare and wonderful occasion for me as a child, so when I finally began to earn an income of my own, I set aside a monthly shoe budget. I love the variety and creativity of footwear. But more importantly, I love how shoes make me feel. Shoes are the one logarithmic constant in my wardrobe. No matter how thick my waist or hips may get, my shoes will always fit. I spent years investing in shoes, working my way from Pay Less brands to Cole Haan, commensurate with my salary. (And then the kids came…so you know how that goes.) By the time we relocated to South Africa, I’d stocked up an impressive arsenal of unique footwear . Footwear that was taken from me by devious agents operating in the aviation industry. Footwear that I could not find in my new home on the Garden Route, and sadly, not even online. It was a stormy time in my life.

No, literally. We moved here in winter when there were constant rainstorms and now I had no boots.

But as with all storms, there is a silver lining and an eventually burst of light that breaks up the dense nimbus. After many nights spent fretting and silently cursing, an idea occurred to me. If could not buy cute boots, maybe I could create something to make these basic Garden Route boots cute! That’s when I began toying with the idea of an interchangeable boot accessory that I now call FlashStraps.

FlashStraps are made with 100% cotton shweshwe (pronounced shway-shway), South Africa’s iconic fabric. Favored by the late anti-apartheid fighter and eventual president Nelson Mandela. shweshwe is fast gaining global recognition and popularity.

Shweshwe forms the basis of traditional Xhosa attire, and has a long and complex history stretching back 2,000 years to trading activities with Arabs and Indians who are rumored to have bartered indigo cloth with the Xhosas in exchange for local goods. The fabric was re-introduced to the region in the 1800s by German settlers who imported it from India as a trade stable. It has been a part of ready to wear and couture fashion ever since.

I coined the motto ‘Informed by the past, inspired by the future’ as a nod to the trials that often inspire creativity – like the birth of ragtime and jazz – and our very human penchant for trusting in destiny.

The inaugural line includes four colors, each representing and named for the character traits of my children:

Nadjah: Green and gold, representing wealth and success.

Aya: Blue and silver, representing tranquility and tenacity.

Stone: Earth brown and slate, representing stability.

Asantewaa: Red, named after the warrior Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, representing an indomitable and fierce spirit.


Newton’s third law says that For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every interaction in our life elicits some response parallel in power and energy. Out of my intense pain of loss (and if you’ve ever shopped in the limited size 10/wide calf section of the shoe store and watched some trollop skip away to the counter with the LAST PAIR of suitable shoes, you know the pain of which I speak) came something as intensely beautiful. At least, I think so!

This is the moment where I pause in my reflections and thank the thieves over at OR Tambo Airport for their greed and dishonesty. Though they were instruments used of Satan, their nefarious deeds presented an opportunity for me to stretch myself. And beyond that, I would like to thank my initial investor for believing in FlashStraps, both as a sartorial accessory and for their historical significance. (She wouldn’t want to be named publically, so let’s allow her an air of mystery.) Her response was not only benevolent, but also necessary. It brought balance to a adverse situation, and I am grateful.

Aren’t they pretty? You can see yourself sporting these at the next Zuvaa Pop Up, can’t you? Of course you can.  You can leave your review of FlashStraps in the comments section and check them out here on Etsy as well. And while you’re at it, talk to me about something that was a severe negative that you turned into a positive!