Bathu Shoes Founder Theo Baloyi Sold Perfume Door to Door Before Becoming 1 of SA’s Biggest Sneaker Brands

Bathu Shoes Founder Theo Baloyi Sold Perfume Door to Door Before Becoming 1 of SA’s Biggest Sneaker Brands

  • Theo Baloyi went from being a small boy in Hammanskraal, Gauteng, to the owner of one of SA's biggest sneaker brands
  • Realising there was no African sneaker brand that encapsulated African people, Theo knew he needed to make it happen
  • After many struggles and a slow start, Bathu Shoes went from its first production of 100 shoes to selling over 15 000 pairs a month

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Theo Baloyi, a boy who grew up in Hammanskraal, Gauteng, never imagined he'd be a successful entrepreneur, let alone make it onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Theo Baloyi, the founder of Mzansi sneaker brand Bathu Shoes
The idea of Bathu Shoes came to Theo Baloyi when he realised that Africa had no sneaker brand that authentically tells the African story. Image: Instagram: theo_baloyi
Source: Instagram

In case you do not know who this man is or what has made him a household name in South Africa, Baloyi is the founder of Bathu Shoes (Pty) Ltd. Bathu Shoes is one of Mzansi's top sneaker brands, which has done so much more than just putting stylish shoes on people's feet.

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Stepping stones that led to Theo Baloyi starting Bathu Shoes

Growing up in Hammanskraal, Gauteng, Theo was raised by his mother, Tshidi Baloyi and father, Solly Baloyi. Solly was a nurse who became a real estate agent, Theo's first example of a man reaching for the stars. Unfortunately, he lost his father in 2014, right before his business was born.

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In 2009, as a young man with great ambition, Theo moved to Alexandra to stay with his uncle so that he could pursue his tertiary education. Baloyi studied at the University of South Africa and got a BCom degree in accounting. While studying, he started selling perfume door to door to earn money, reported startupgrind. He never knew that this would be the start of a highly fruitful entrepreneurial adventure.

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After completing his degree and soldiering through all the struggles that came with it, Theo got himself a job at the well-known firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). This led to him working in the financial sector for five years, two years in South Africa and three years in the Middle East, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

Theo Baloyi's "aha moment" that gave rise to the proudly South African sneaker brand

Speaking to How we made it in Africa, Baloyi explained that the idea for a proudly African sneaker brand sparked when he was working abroad. While waiting to board a flight, he saw a shop in the airport that seemed to be the central attraction, so he went to see why.

A Frenchman in Dubai was selling a proudly French brand in a place where the French were few. Being unapologetically proud of his heritage and telling an authentic story got the man's store all the attention and sparked Theo's idea.

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Owning multiple pairs of sneakers, not one of them being an African brand, Theo knew he had to change that. So, he spent the next 18 months researching sneaker manufacturing and how he could tell the story of African people through shoes and came up with Bathu Shoes.

“I did 18 months of research and development, which included coming up with a proof of concept, quality testing and quality assurance,” shared Baloyi

Choosing the name Bathu Shoes was the start of representing Mzansi in the shoe game, as Bathu is South African township slang for 'shoes'.

The design process was slow and steady as Theo needed to get it right, as failure was not an option. With very few sneaker producers in Mzansi, Baloyi had to tap into well-known sneaker brands abroad to create a brand and shoe that would make a mark in SA and globally.

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“I had to rely on my network of former colleagues and friends, internet sources and success stories from the States. The success stories of retail businesses like Nike and Under Armour aren’t prevalent in South Africa. We don’t have a story like theirs in Africa.”

It was a long 18 months of intensive research, but it is clear today that it paid off.

The launch of Bathu Shoes – a monumental moment in the Mzansi sneaker industry

Thanks to his extensive finance and business modelling background, Theo felt confident in that business side. However, he had zero experience in sneaker retail.

As this was not just a business venture, but a move he was making on behalf of all the people in Mzansi, Theo felt tremendous pressure. Trying to make the shoe 100% African, he hit a stumbling block when he realised production time and cost in SA were worlds apart from the East.

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“In South Africa, you need about eight months to manufacture a new shoe. In the East, this usually takes four weeks. While South African factories can buy expensive equipment to manufacture according to specific requirements, the trends and styles may no longer be current when the product is completed,” he explained.

Finding a factory through a colleague, Theo started production on his first-ever sneaker. Taking all that he had saved over the five years working at PwC, Theo had his first 100 pairs of sneakers made in 2015, launching Bathu Shoes from a small room in Alexandra. He sold these among friends for market research and only did another 400 pairs the following year.

It was in 2017 Theo's business got its big break. Bathu Shoes sealed its first corporate collaboration with an incubation hub in Johannesburg, which led to 1000 pairs of sneakers flying off the shelves, causing his online store to crash. Production then went from 1 000 pairs of sneakers to 3 000 and 4 000, a monumental moment for the young brand.

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Now Bathu Shoes sells over 15 000 pairs of sneakers every month, making them the fastest-growing sneaker brand in Mzansi. Theo couldn't be more proud of how far he, his company and SA have come in the sneakers world.

Being able to employ 103 people and put Mzansi on the map, proudly representing an authentically SA sneaker, is all Theo dreamed of. He doesn't plan on stopping here, and we cannot wait to see the new height's he'll take the brand and Mzansi to!

A list of some of Theo Baloyi's notable accolades

  • 2022 Most Influential Young African
  • Africa Entrepreneur of the Year 2021
  • GQ Business Leader of the Year 2021
  • 2020 Most Influential Young South African in Business
  • BBQ Awards - Transformation Champion of the Year Award 2020
  • 2020 Top Young Achiever of the Year - Top Empowerment Awards
  • BBQ Awards - Businessman of the Year Award 2020
  • 2020 Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Gauteng Premier Service Excellence Awards
  • 2019 Most Influential Young South African in Business - Avance Media
  • 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.
  • SME Award 2019 (Finalist) - Vision 2030 Awards
  • Fastest Growing Business Brand 2019 (Finalist) – National Business Awards
  • Young Executive of the Year 2019 (Finalist) – National Business Awards

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Founder of Bathu Shoes, Theo Baloyi, pays tribute to Riky Rick with stylish sneakers, Mzansi shares feedback

In related news, Briefly News reported that businessman and founder of Bathu Shoes, Theo Baloyi paid tribute to Riky Rick the best way he knows how - through customised sneakers that boast a design as colourful as the late Mzansi entertainment icon's spirit was.

Baloyi shared an image of the stunning kicks on Twitter to coincide with Ricky's funeral service. The rapper was laid to rest at a close gathering in Johannesburg on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

The bright yellow pair of shoes has a graphic portrait of the star's face on one shoe and one of the fashion lover's famous quotes on the other.

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Source: Briefly News

Denika Herbst avatar

Denika Herbst (Editor) Denika Herbst is a Human Interest writer at Briefly News. She is also an Industrial Sociologist with a master's degree in Industrial Organisational and Labour Studies from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, which she completed in 2020. She is now a PhD candidate at UKZN. Denika has over five years of experience writing for Briefly News (joined in 2018), and a short time writing for The South African. You can reach her via:

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