Put your best foot forward with Bathu

November 09,2016.  Theo   Baloyi  shows off his brand of sneakers manufactured at a factory in Bramley, Johannesburg. Pic: Veli Nhlapo © Sowetan
November 09,2016. Theo Baloyi shows off his brand of sneakers manufactured at a factory in Bramley, Johannesburg. Pic: Veli Nhlapo © Sowetan

Very few young black men can pat themselves on the back and proclaim that they have created their own brand of sneakers.

Yet that is the accolade that Theo Baloyi has. The 26-year-old has created a proudly South African sneakers brand called Bathu, a new entrant onto the South African fashion platform.

How did this vibrant young man come up with the concept of designing a shoe from scratch, while most young men his age are concerned about going out to have youth fun times?

We caught up with him to find out. Surprisingly, entering the fashion industry was not initially in his foresight. Instead, he had a passion for numbers.

"I grew up in a small village called Phake (in Mpumalanga). After graduating from high school, I came to Johannesburg in 2009 to further my studies in accounting," said Baloyi.

The creative bug hit him after encountering and falling in love with an overseas brand that took pride in its heritage.

"I was inspired by a French brand which had a true French identity. I realised that it's about time we told our stories to the world, and had a product that speaks directly to people's hearts for having a true South African identity.

"That inspired me to start a shoe brand, Bathu, and I have been in this journey for the last 18 months."

Bathu is a South African slang for "shoe", and Baloyi says people can relate with the brand because it is a very popular word across townships in the country.

"Our sneakers [are] a proudly South African product made out of a mesh material. It is unisex, and designed specifically for the spring and summer season. The range comes in grey, navy, blue and pink.

"The material has small holes which allow in some gentle breeze as you walk, and the colours are also compatible with the summer season." he says proudly.

Although Baloyi says he is contractually not allowed to divulge specific details of his manufacturing process, he gave us a general idea of how the process of making a shoe works - from the beginning to end - until his stylish sneakers are packed in a box for you to take home.

"The hardest thing I had to deal with was compliance with the factory requirements in terms of quality standard and quantity.

"I have two graphic designers that I work with, and we firstly did different concepts of designs. The first step was to sketch the drawing. When we were happy with the sketch, we then had to convert it into a 3D design.

"After I approved the final 3D sketch, I started talks with different factories, and engaging with production teams from the factories as to whether they could manufacture these sneakers or not.

"When we found a team that was happy with the design and agreed to do the manufacturing, we signed an exclusivity agreement contract.

"At the factory, the team that specifically works on the Bathu production consists of ten people; one project/production manager and nine project resources."

Baloyi says that having an accounting background came in handy because he immediately knew the importance of having an exclusivity contract with the firm in order to protect his brand.

"Like any other business, we needed to try as much as we could to protect our work. As much as it is hard to protect a design, we needed assurance that the factory would not manufacture or sell our designs to anyone else.

"As a new proudly South African emerging shoe company we definitely needed that exclusivity. So we have clauses that stipulate that they can't use our material in a different design, let alone change our design."

Baloyi says the negotiation process was a tough one, but eventually, all parties involved agreed to the terms of the contract.

After that it was time to decide on which material would be used for the shoe.

"I worked closely with the manufactures and the production team.

"They have over 50 years in the business, and they have a huge network and a strong supply chain. So they sourced the material and I did the ground work as well.

"At first I was not happy with the material they sourced, so I had to go on the ground and source the material I wanted, which took even longer. But eventually we arrived at the mesh, breathable material that adorns Bathu," he said.

"After getting the material, we proceeded to the next level of sample production, meaning creating a sort of an example of how the shoes would look like.

"Once I was happy with the sample, we moved over to the mass production process, which involved creating a lot of Bathu shoes."

The sneakers retail at R800 per pair, and Baloyi says they do free deliveries around Gauteng.

He urged potential clients to visit www.BrandsAfrika.com or the RHTC online store to view and purchase the Bathu shoes. More info also available on www.bathu.co.za.