Theo Baloyi, the founder of popular local sneaker brand Bathu, now holds the title as Mzansi’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. From a back-room in the Alexandra township to
Baloyi, 29, has been acknowledged this year at the South African Premier Busines Awards. As the owner of the three-year-old business that started from nothing, he said he was really humbled.
The word “bathu” is slang for “shoes” in South African townships and has been used for many years. As a brand, Bathu was founded in 2015 and became a name that defined its originality.
Baloyi had a nine-to-five job and a love for sneakers just as much as any of us could. He used to buy a lot of sneakers for himself, so why not make his own?
The Bathu flagship design is the Mesh edition sneaker inspired by the ‘happy socks’ trend in 2015, he said. Just like that, a brand was born. “Since there were happy socks, why not come up with a happy shoe that shows off the socks and blows air into your feet. The only sneaker that breathes,” he said.
Bathu sneakers are 100% locally produced, with mesh material from Lesotho and manufactured in Durban. Baloyi says the mesh material used is normally a component of a shoe and not the whole shoe. “I worked nonstop on the research and development, quality testing, quality control and quality assurance.”
“That process took about 18 months, including building relationships with sources and stakeholders before we could get the shoe in hand.” He said he made 21 samples and was declined 13 times before his Bathu was approved, after initial doubts about the mesh.
Baloyi started off with a range of 4 colours and now has 11 colours, which made a killing turnover of R20,2 million for the 2018/2019 financial year. He added, “We are looking at tripling it in the next few years.”
Most of his employees are from his community in Alexandra, and has since opened three official stores in Newtown, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.
Bathu is now a success story about a young South African who can inspire other young South Africans to follow their own ideas. You don’t have to wait for the government or work a nine-to-five job for the rest of your life. Plan your idea thoroughly and have patience. Our townships are filled with minds that can turn a simple thought into a multi-million-rand idea.