JOHANNESBURG – Entrepreneur Theo Baloyi says he wants to tell a proudly South African township story through his successful sneaker brand Bathu.
Bathu, which means a shoe in township lingo, was established in 2015 and has already gained a huge following from the country’s celebrities, trendy business leaders and the ordinary folk.
Baloyi, 28, from Phake near Hammanskraal is the founder and chief executive of Bathu. An accountant by profession, he says their sneakers are unique because of their attractive mesh edition design, which blows air into the wearer’s feet.
The sole and rubber of the sneakers has striking bright colours resembling the happy socks trend.
Baloyi says this was deliberate because when they launched the brand on September 6, 2016 with 400 pairs, the season was spring.
The sneakers come in various colours including navy blue, grey, pink and light blue, and are priced from R900 up to R1200.
“Four hours after launching the brand, our website crashed because of traffic.People were curious about what this brand and what it represents,” says Baloyi, who holds an honours degree in accounting sciences from Unisa.
They then partnered with an alcohol brand to manufacture 1000 more pairs, and a further 1600 pairs of the limited edition sneakers available in white.
“Three months ago we offloaded a 14-ton truck and we moved to a bigger warehouse with more security and insurance,” he says, adding that last week they placed an order for 10 000 pairs.
The company delivers across South Africa and in neighbouring countries including Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia.
Baloyi says the celebrities who wear the Bathu brand are not their ambassadors but appreciates their support.
“A lot of celebrities love our brand because our story resonates with them so well. They take pride in our story, hence they wear the brand with pride wherever they go. Our brand speaks to the heart,” he says, in between taking calls on his cellphone, attending to client queries.
Celebrities who wear the Bathu brand include Somizi Mhlongo, a reality TV star, choreographer and Idols judge, and his young fiance Mohale Motaung, and multi-millionaire forex trader Andile Mayisela, among many others.
Baloyi says he worked for auditing PwC for five years: two years in South Africa and three years in the Middle East, in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
He resigned from the company in January this year to give Bathu his undivided attention.
The entrepreneurial bug hit him at the second year of his studies in Unisa, when he started selling door to door in Alexandra township.
“I have always had the love for selling and for business and identifying gaps in the market and fulfilling them,” he says.
During his travels to the Middle East when he worked as an accountant for PwC, he used to buy himself a lot of sneakers.
“They were limited editions and were not available in South Africa, my friends loved them so much.”
He then identified a gap in the sneaker business but elected against importing the sneakers into the country.
“I remember this other time when I was going back to Saudi Arabia, I had a 7-hour layover in Dubai. I started a conversation with a guy who owned a retail store at the airport. The brand he was selling at the store resonated with the French,” he recalls.
Baloyi says he started asking himself hard questions about what Africans were doing to tell their story in the same way the French entrepreneur was doing.
“That’s how I conceptualised the Bathu brand. I worked in the concept for 18 months, doing research development, speaking to factories and being declined 15 times and so on,” he remembers.
However, his persistence paid off with 100 pairs manufactured during the proof of concept period.
Baloyi is clear about one thing: “We don’t want to be a fashion brand. We want to be a shoe retail brand.”
He says they want to grow their brand as if it were a South African version of shoe companies Aldo or Spitz.
“If Spitz can come here and build their brand, why can’t Bathu go to Italy and build a brand that Italians could say is proudly South Africa,” says Baloyi, adding: “Africans it’s our time, let’s build our continent.”