Flip-Flops Made in Kenya Echo Around the Bata World
Flip-flops, also known as thong sandals, are basic in all the best ways. With its flat sole and simple strap anchored between the toes, this shoe style was probably among the earliest types in existence, perhaps dating back to 1500 B.C. More than 3000 years later, modern men, women and children still find them a great choice for comfortable, easy footwear.
Given flip-flops’ long history of success, it was only natural that Bata would manufacture its own version of this ancient shoe. The factory at the center of this enterprise is Bata’s facility in Limuru, Kenya, which produces 16 million pairs per year – representing 40% of Bata’s worldwide production and more than half of the factory’s total output.
Bata Kenya began production of flip-flops in the 1950s. At the time, it was the first shoe production facility – and indeed the first footwear company – in the country. (Despite this, a small number of Kenyans were already wearing shoes, due to centuries-long multicultural influences along the Kenyan coastline.) Flip-flops were soon baptized “patapata” locally because of the sound the sandal makes as it slaps against the wearer’s foot as he or she walks. They began to rack up massive sales, with customers invariably asking for “patpat” or “patipati ” to describe the shoe they wanted. Both very affordable and highly adaptable, from the beginning Bata flip-flops were used not only as bathroom footwear or in the home, but also as a casual sandal. When customers stepped beyond the confines of their house in their flip-flops, their neighbors took notice.
Among the different styles of flip-flops produced by the Limuru factory, one style always stood out. A very simple model, available in blue or red, it has been in demand for decades, and alone accounted for a full 80 percent of total flip-flop production last year. While other styles sported names such as “Cadillac,” “Trop” and “Hawaii,” this stalwart model was known simply as “Patapata.”
The name was eventually registered as a brand in 1981, and years later, it was adopted as a global Bata Shoe Organization brand, complete with the familiar palm fronds motif.
Never a Flop
Despite the shoe’s great success, there were times when production faced serious threats, especially in the last decade. First there were cheap imports from eastern Asia, but Limuru beat them with its superior quality. Next came competition from local producers selling copies, but again Bata came out victorious. Most recently, sandals made from blown polyurethane (PU) briefly took the market by storm, but this proved to be a passing fad.
And so, more than half a century later, Bata flip-flops and the Limuru factory are still going strong. Just recently, during this year’s World Cup season, Bata Kenya even introduced a very popular special release in the colors of the various teams in competition. Whether for use around the house, for a casual outing, or to support your favorite team, there’s nothing like Patapata.