Despite South Africa having a rich selection of traditional home grown shoes, they still aren’t visible on the streets, instead the likes of Adidas, Nike, Puma and Converse are the staple.
When Theo Baloyi noticed this, it presented a challenge……
……how do we as fellow citizens of South Africa reclaim a crucial part of our street culture?? From this point onwards, Bathu was birthed.
According to Theo, Bathu aims to be for South Africa what Vans or Chuck Taylor’s are to urban America.
While walking on a Dubai airport during a stop break to Saudi Arabia for work purposes at PWC, Theo Baloyi saw a particular store that caught his attention. He saw a constant stream of people going in and out
Theo was intrigued, so much so that he even went out of his way and spoke to the owner. He discovered that the Frenchman was selling a French brand in a foreign land of UAE.
It dawned on him that the Frenchman was telling a story that resonated well with people of the French origin.
Being a sneaker head himself , he remembered that none of the sneakers occupying his cupboard back home were of an African origin and that was disturbing to say the least.
He got his lightbulb moment when he resumed his flight, he thought to himself what were fellow South Africans doing to tell their stories to the world?? That was when the idea of making an African shoe brand was born.
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When he came home, he went on an 18 month research and developing spree, this included coming up with concept idea & proof, quality testing and assurance.
According to Theo, this whole process came easy for him due to his background in Accounting. He’s been fortunate enough to have an excellent experience with business and finance modeling in a corporate structure, which he got during his work days at PWC.
Before the launch of Bathu in 2015, Theo had no prior experience in shoes or retail whatsoever. This proved to be a huge problem, so he had to be very strategic in conducting his research, with regards to how he positioned his brand and all the other technicalities involved in the shoe manufacturing world.
The fact that South Africa has no success stories of retail empires like Nike or Under Armor, meant Theo had to go out of his way and checkout the stories of those international shoe empires to source knowledge and inspiration.
Theo later on realized the negative impacts of sneaker manufacturing in an unestablished market. Sometimes he’d have a great innovative design but the local factories wouldn’t have the right equipment and if he decided to source from abroad, it would take millions of years.
It takes about 4 weeks to manufacture a new shoe in the East but 8 months in South Africa. According to Theo, those delays are detrimental to both efficiency and product.
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And the worse part is that while South African factories can buy the necessary equipments to manufacture per requirement, by the time the products are completed, the trends & style may no longer be relevant.
A former colleague at PWC whose friend’s family owned a factory connected Theo to the family and that was when the first 100 pairs of Bathu sneakers were born.
While Theo wanted 100 pairs initially, the factory wanted atleast 1200 orders. They said NO at first for his request, but after he sold them the vision he has for Bathu, and the assurance that he’d be back for more big orders once the ship starts sailing, the owner reluctantly agreed.
Bathu’s flagship mesh design was inspired by a trendy sock in 2015, whereby collectors of socks were displaying their colourful and noticable patterns above their ankles.
The Bathu model infiltrated the market by allowing people to completley show off their socks entirely, while at the same time wearing the shoe. Before Theo was happy with the final prototype of Bathu, the team had to go through 21 samples.
The first 100 pairs that were created were sold to family, extended family and friends in 2015. When 2016 came, the number increased to 400 pairs and while it was still below the minimum order quantity, the factory still kept them on because they could see progress.
A game changer moment came when Bathu signed its first corporate collaboration with a Johannesburg-based incubation hub, this led to the release of 1000 pairs of its Mesh Edition sneakers.
On Bathu’s official launch in 2016, bezerk traffic to its website caused it to crash, as everyone was talking about the brand. From then going forward, factory orders started increasing from 1000 to 3000, 4000 and still rising.
Theo alludes this market response to the power of social media. He was able to influence the market through a free PR via social media channels that shared the story of Bathu.
After noticing the effectiveness of social media promotion, it has since formed a core part of Bathu’s marketing drive on getting its products out there to the market. It was cost effective then and it’s still cost effective now.
The profits from the spike in sales were reinvested back in the business, which allowed the brand to scale upwards. From the get-go, Theo made it a point to consistently reinvest the profits and maintain a healthy relationship with his manufacturer.
Bathu is shifting over 15 000 units per month and still growing. The team also moved into a 3,700 square metre warehouse and office facility in Gauteng.
The company employs over 103 people in its 30 stores throughout the country and has won multiple awards for being the best retailer in South Africa.
Being this fortunate, Theo plans on giving back and creating more opportunities for others in the near future.
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