Global footprint for SA veldskoen
By Kevin Ritchie - May 29th, 10:17
Prince Harry wears them, Ashton Kutcher bought a share in the company that makes them and these days some brides even get married in them. We’re talking about the common or garden South African veldskoen, but there’s nothing ordinary about these shoes with their zany different coloured soles available in a seven-colour spectrum.
The shoes are the brainchild of three dotcom entrepreneurs, who all met at Pretoria Boys’ High in the early to mid-’90s: Ross Zondagh, Nic Latouf and Nick Dreyer. Zondagh and Dreyer were watching the South African team at the Rio Olympics in August 2016 and – like the rest of the country – were aghast at the team’s fashion faux pas; from the ill-fitting and garish tracksuits to the actual competition kit.
Nothing suggested the team was South African. They asked themselves what would be and came up with veldskoen, the humble South African leather shoe that would inspire the Chukka or desert boot, but unlike anything that had ever been seen; handmade with colourful laces to match the soles, or mixed and matched if you owned more than one pair.
“We needed a smart guy to tell the story, which is why we approached Nic (Latouf) and that’s how DORP (Digital Online Retail Products) was started, as an e-commerce portal and platform to tell a cool story about a particular product and get people excited about it. We didn’t want to be another mall type e-commerce business selling hundreds of different products from one site.”
And so Veldskoen was born – to the derision of everyone who heard about it.
“Everyone laughed at us,” remembers Dreyer.
“We told them about our wonderful new venture and their response was ‘don’t give up your day job!’” laughs Latouf, but all of it just spurred them on. The business model is designed to be scalable so that the product can go global – which is literally what happened.
A 49% percent acquisition of DORP by Long4Life, the lifestyle venture capital company which also owns Sportsman’s Warehouse, Outdoor Warehouse, and Sorbet, allowed the company to expand into the UK and European markets.
Then The Times of London reported that Prince Harry had been seen wearing a pair of the red-soled shoes.
“The quality of the Royal family as a brand magnet cannot be underestimated,” says Zondagh, “wow, what an impact that story had on the business.”
Kutcher and Mark Cuban, the Shark Tank investor’s involvement has been as high-profile and just as important for the brand’s venture into the US market, as Dreyer says: “America is an incredibly tough market, there are many stories of people losing the shirt on their back so to have a celebrity endorsement – and the necessary funding and infrastructure – is critically important to break through.”
Today, the all South African business is growing, with the head office in Cape Town, while the factory in Durban produces up to 3 500 pairs of bespoke shoes every month shipping them across the country and to Europe, UK, and the US.
The success has been such that the three entrepreneurs have now introduced a specific woman’s range dubbed “Vellies”, and a uniquely South African take on the 1960s Chelsea boot, and even a line of unique slip slops dubbed, as you might imagine: Plakkies, with more fashion innovations in the pipeline later this year.
The driving force behind it all remains re-imagining a uniquely local icon and creating an international brand that South Africans can be proud of – there’s even a special range of green veldskoens with the Springbok rugby logo embroidered on the side. It doesn’t matter how big the brand gets, nothing will change that, says Latouf; “Our DNA is SA, our factory is here, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere else.”
And their wives?
“They don’t laugh about it anymore,” says Zondagh, “they might laugh at other things…”
"They can’t,” chips in Dreyer, “they’re all involved in the business now too.”
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