Theo Baloyi on putting your best foot forward, wealth building and stepping into Africa
Bathu Shoes founder and entrepreneur, Theo Baloyi, was recently awarded Top Empowerment’s Top Empowered Young Achiever of the Year for 2020, in the midst of his pro-African sneaker brand’s major success story – and this is only the beginning!
The Bathu story is more than just a story of sneakers. It’s a story of claiming your purpose in life, staying true to who you really are, and pursuing your dreams and doing something you are actually passionate about. His is a story of walking your destined path. His narrative is truly an inspirational tale of diligence, detailing how believing in yourself despite all obstacles could lead to unprecedented levels of success.
Born and raised in Gauteng, Theo lived with his uncle in the township of Alexandra, whilst pursuing a BCom Accounting degree. Upon receiving his accounting qualification, and landing a job with PwC, Theo then moved to Dubai, achieving financial security for himself and his family following his father passing. During his experience in the Middle East, the award-winning 30 year-old accountant began his entrepreneurial journey, detecting a gap in the sneaker market. Through an international lens, a void in the market could be seen, there was a need for an authentic African sneaker brand ─ and Theo made it his mission to tell an authentically honest African story through his new venture.
Today, Bathu is a well-loved brand. Theo’s concept was ingenuous: create a sneaker business with distinctive and modern flair, with all shoes produced locally, which would ultimately become as popular as any other global sneaker brand.
“We penetrated an industry that has been dominated by international footwear brands for years, and we have managed to create a brand that is pro-African with a world-class look and feel”
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE BEHIND YOUR BRAND?
“Our sole aim is to build a proudly African sneaker brand, reignite hope and create sustainable jobs. I’m of the opinion that we are on a journey to contribute immensely in the South African economy and help create more jobs. We penetrated an industry that has been dominated by international footwear brands for years, and we have managed to create a brand that is pro-African with a world-class look and feel.
“It’s truly a proudly South African story. I might have initiated it, but it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to all of us. We’re called “Bathu”, which means ‘shoe’ in Tsotsitaal (the vernacular derived from a blend of local languages mainly spoken in the townships of Gauteng such as Soweto). It doesn’t matter where you go, whether it’s filled with isiXhosa, isiZulu or Sepedi speaking people; South Africans know what it means. It unites us, and that’s what the business is about – uniting people. Today, we can say we penetrated an industry that has been dominated by international footwear brands for years, and we have managed to create a brand that is pro-African with a world-class look and feel.”
HOW HAVE YOU ACHIEVED THIS LEVEL OF SUCCESS AT THE MERE AGE OF 30?
“I’ve found my purpose and that’s what makes me so confident in what I do, but I understand that this is bigger than me. The journey has been a hustle. My seniors at PwC were supportive of me having a side hustle, and then I found a factory in Durban that would make the sneaker, but my design first needed their approval. It took 18 months to research and develop the prototype. In order for it to be worthwhile for them to switch on their machines, the minimum order quantity had to be about 1,200 pairs. I then sold the 100 pairs made (at a loss) from my uncle’s back room and the boot of my car, at first.
“You must have the right people in positions that they enjoy. My best friend Andrew Lale and my uncle kept the business going when I returned to Dubai. They helped me deliver, and Andrew conducted media interviews on my behalf, but I was always hands-on. After five years at PwC, and three in Dubai, I quit and invested savings into building the business and making a real impact in my community. Four hours after launching the brand, our website crashed because of traffic. People were curious about the brand and what it represents.
“Being in the corporate space exposed me to wealth building and my vision is to build that wealth. It’s all about building and never giving up. The factory in Durban, that now makes our sneakers, rejected us sixteen times because of the mesh fabric we wanted to use – I refused to take no for an answer. I didn’t want to start a sneaker brand for the sake of it. I wanted to tell a story and manufacture products of quality.”
THEO’S CURRENT ACCOLADES
- Top Empowerment Awards 2020 – Top Empowered Young Achiever of the Year
- BBQ Awards – Ndlovu Jewellery Transformation Champion of the Year Award 2020
- BBQ Awards – Hennessy XO Businessman of the Year Award 2020
- Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 – South African Business Premier Awards.
- Forbes Africa 30 under 30 – 2019.
- Emerging Business – Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 – Sanlam & Business Partners.
- Fastest Growing Business Brand 2019 (Finalist) – National Business Awards
- Young Executive of the Year 2019 (Finalist) – National Business Awards
- SME Award 2019 (Finalist) – Vision 2030 Awards
- 2019 Most influential Young South African in Business – Avance Media
- Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Gauteng Premier Service Excellence Awards
- Collaborations with big brands like OPEL, Forbes Africa, and Sprite
WHAT’S THE BEST FINANCIAL ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice came from my father. He used to tell me to never have an emotional relationship with money because if I lose R10, I will lament that loss. However, if I have an intellectual relationship with money, I will think about how I will make my next R20, and that’s how I run my business to this day.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HOW POPULAR YOUR BRAND HAS BECOME IN SOUTH AFRICA?
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. We don’t want to be a fashion brand. We want to be a shoe retail brand. 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? It’s our time; let’s build our continent.
THE FUTURE FOR BATHU
In January 2020, Bathu secured a 3700m² warehouse in Centurion, Johannesburg, which houses their current staff base of 68 people ─ 80% of whom are from Alexandra. This figure has gradually increased throughout the year, combating the devastating local unemployment rates by creating jobs and strengthening the hopes of local families and individuals.
As part of their vision for 2020, Bathu opened its sixteenth local store in November this year. Both Theo and Bathu pride themselves on creating an African footprint across the globe, and there are plans to position the brand across Africa, with more retail store locations, starting with Botswana in 2021.
At present, Bathu offers a unique range of sneakers and related products for both children and adults, including the standard Mesh Edition, the Mesh Edition 2.0, Journey Edition Suede, and the Journey Edition Leather ─ with plenty more to come.