The Rise & Fall of Green Cross: How A Conglomerate Ruined A Well Run Family Business

Shoemaking company, Green Cross — South Africa’s leading comfort footware brand — was founded in 1975 by Karl and Hildegard Zeppel in a home-based workshop in Cape Town.

Green Cross store

Born into a shoemaking family in Germany, the Zeppels used their background as inspiration to launch their German-style wooden clogs and cork sandals.

In the 1980s, the Zeppels’ sons joined the family business and began construction on the Epping factory in Cape Town.

At some point, the Epping factory was home to over 643 craftsmen who produced 2500 shoes per day for the brand.

Inside the Epping factory

Green Cross creates every type of footwear including youth fashion sandals and shoes, infant’s sandals and shoes, ladies cork sandals, men’s shoes and sandals, school shoes, wooden clogs, courts and slingbacks, and active shoes.

Apart from footwear, other products from the brand include:

01. Shoe Care
Green Cross has a range of shoe care products to assist in keeping shoes clean, polished and protected. These include instant buffs, deodorisers, polishes and balms.

02. Foot Care
It also has a comprehensive range of Foot Care Products from Medicated Corn Plasters, Heel Balms, Insoles, and Foot sprays to Arch Supports.

All Green Cross products can be found at the company’s own-brand-stores which can be found in all 9 Provinces of the country. They can also be found at pharmacies and independent shoe stores.

AVI Acquisition

In 2012, after growing and running the business for 40+ years, the Zeppel family sold Green Cross to AVI — JSE-listed conglomerate which is home to many of South Africa’s leading and best-loved brands — for R382.5 million.

When the move was announced, the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) warned competition authorities that AVI “lacked commitment regarding local manufacturing,” and could end up “curtailing” local manufacturing.

AVI wanted to bolster its premium branded footwear and apparel portfolio following acquisition of Spitz in 2005.

Unfortunately, Sactwu was right, the acquisition began the downward spiral Green Cross has seen in recent years.

In December 2018, AVI announced it laid off 336, this was a serious blow to the already crumbling economy and also the footwear manufacturing in Cape Town.

A former employee who wanted to remain anonymous said “the factory is a noose around AVI’s neck”.

The employee said Green Cross management appointed by AVI was not experienced in shoemaking. Between 2012 and 2018, there have been four MDs of Green Cross: Robert Lunt, Greg Smith, Tracey Chiappini-Young, and Coppin.

By 2019, the factory was closed, and all the Green Cross shoes were imported from overseas. On top of that, the name of the company’s own-brand-stores had disappeared from storefronts, and replaced with GX & Co.

GX & Co store

As of now, many Green Cross stores have been closed, and the shoes are selling less than when the business was ran by the Zeppels.

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