At 29, Theo Baloyi has a made name for himself in South Africa as one of the thriving young entrepreneurs. His journey started when he met a French businessman with a shop at Durban Airport a few years ago. In a long conversation, the two of them talked about entrepreneurship and culture.
That was when the interest to go into entrepreneurship started for Baloyi. He told himself if he wanted to make an impact, he needed to take calculated risks. He then decided to venture into the footwear industry after noticing a market gap.
Through his research, he noticed that most of the sneakers on the continent were imported brands. And so he wanted to design something with an African touch. Initially, he wanted to import the sneakers from established brands but later decided against it.
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In the process, Baloyi co-founded Bathu, a South African township slang for ‘shoes’, in 2015. His brand of sneakers is designed with a distinctive mesh fabric and thick white soles.
“I did 18 months of research and development, which included coming up with a proof of concept, quality testing and quality assurance,” Baloyi explained in an interview with Howwemadeitinafrica. Baloyi’s accounting experience helped in this regard. “I’ve been fortunate to have extensive experience with business and finance modelling in a corporate environment.”
According to him, he settled on the name Bathu because his business is about uniting people. “It doesn’t matter where you go, whether it’s a place filled with isiXhoa, isiZulu or Sepedi speaking people, South Africa know what it means. It unites us, and that’s what the business is about- uniting people,” he told news24.
Today, his shoe business makes a turnover of over $1 million. The company also has four cars, two stores at Gauteng, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
South Africa is one of the unestablished markets for sneakers and so for most designs, manufacturing companies do not have the right equipment for it. And in some cases, the companies have to source the right equipment, by which time the designs submitted would have been outmoded.
“In South Africa, you need about eight months to manufacture a new shoe. In the East, this usually takes four weeks. While South African factories can buy expensive equipment to manufacture according to specific requirements, the trends and styles may no longer be current when the product is completed,” Baloyi told Howwemadeitinafrica.
Through his network, he found a manufacturer for his first 100 Bathu sneakers. “A colleague at PwC whose friend’s family owned a factory… So, I got to work,” he said. In 2017, he managed to release 1000 pairs of Mesh Edition sneakers through a collaboration with an incubation hub in Johannesburg.
Baloyi said his success even surprised him. “The rewards were are reaping now are pleasures I thought we’d only see a couple of years from now,” he said. “But through the hard work and perseverance of my team, we’ve come this far in just three years.”
According to the entrepreneur, he reinvested profit from his business in order to make it a sustainable venture. “Five years later, this is where we are: 15,000 pairs per month and it’s growing,” he said.
Currently, there are 12 Bathu retail outlets across the country, aside from the online store. The company employs 103 people.