An ex-accountant building an African empire one sneaker at a time

We all have dreams and aspirations of implementing a ground-breaking commercial idea that could turn us into the next billionaire designer but for Theo Baloyi, his sneaker idea has demonstrated a  perfect step in the right direction to that success. Mzansi’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2019, Top Empowered Young Achiever of the Year 2020, South Africa’s Young Businessman and Forbes 30under30 are just some of the awards the young founder of Bathu Shoes has received.

Prior to launching Bathu Shoes, Theo worked as an accountant for one of the most well-known accounting firms in South Africa. Through the firm he was able to  move to Dubai to  secure financial security for him and his family following his father’s passing. During his time in the Middle East, the creative and entrepreneurial journey of building an empire began when he  identified a gap in the sneaker market. Essentially  there was a need for a real and original African sneaker brand. He  made it his assignment to be the developer of this authentic product by establishing this business venture.

“I never expected Bathu to become a success in such a short period. Its success can only be attributed to how it has become a people’s brand that is owned by Africans. When I was furthering my studies I hustled a lot – I used to make door to door stops selling perfumes, I wanted to get back to that feeling of interacting with my customers. I used to drive around in Alexandra Township and see how our communities were  suffering through lack of  employment. It was at this point that I decided to start a business that would in future create opportunities for the people in my community and beyond,” said Theo. Bathu – meaning shoes in township slang – has grown to be a household name occupying the minds, mouths and feet of many consumers not just in South Africa but all over the continent.

Just five years in the industry, the popular South African sneaker brand, Bathu, has earned itself a spot in Brand Africa 100’s Top 10 Most Admired Brands in Africa rankings, but the brand holds a story of very humble beginnings. Its first stock was sold in a back room of a small house across the road from a tuckshop in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg.

It took 13 rejections from manufacturers to find someone who was willing to help make Bathu’s signature shoe. It was through Theo’s networks from his former employer at the accounting firm that Baloyi found a producer for the first 100 pairs of Bathu sneakers in 2015.

In 2016 they manufactured 400 pairs and in 2017, Bathu secured its first corporate partnership with a development hub in Johannesburg, which led to the release of a further 1 000 pairs of the Mesh Edition sneakers. This was the beginning of a success story unfolding. There are now 26 Bathu retail outlets across South Africa with  a staff compliment of over 230 people, aside from the online store. The team has also recently moved into a 3 700 square meter warehouse and office facility in the Gauteng province.

One of the initiatives recently launched in June is Bathu Shoes giving back to the  BATHO Care Project  to assist  disadvantaged children walk their educational journey in coziness, wearing their brand new pair of Bathu School shoes. The aim is to give South African children a chance to reach their highest potential. It is envisaged that 100 000 pairs will be distributed by the end of February 2022.

Theo describes the Bathu brand as more than just about shoes but it a “sole movement”. He believes that it signifies development and advancement for a lot of people as they journey through their life’s journey, guaranteeing that they look good in the process – which is exactly what he intended it to represent. It’s more than just another sneaker, it’s a symbol of hope, employment and empowerment. Bathu has since  collaborated with iconic brands like OPEL, Forbes Africa, Sprite, ABInbev (Castle Lite) among others and with the unfolding of its current brand story, there is only an upward trajectory for Theo and his team.

Image credit: Instagram