Ross Zondagh and Nick Dreyer - Founders of Veldskoen
When they started, in 2016, they had no footwear background at all. By last year, they were responsible for between 13% and 18% of SA’s footwear exports by pairs, and probably at least as much by value.
Anyone who knows much about SA’s footwear exports will know the reference is to Veldskoen (Pty) Ltd – the company, not the shoe.
Founders Nick Dreyer and Ross Zondagh are adamant Veldskoen’s success is “all about the product”, but Veldskoen’s marketing and business vision are what have taken a South African staple and an internationally cyclically popular construction to a different level.
The story behind the founding of the business is approaching mythological status and is, along with a lot of other interesting and entertaining content, on their very professional website.
The short version is that they settled on the stitchdown veldskoen as the quintessential South African shoe to take to the world, but which needed something to lift it from its pastoral origins to street fashion. A Louboutin moment: different colour soles and laces. Oh. And a VERY cheeky touch: registering ‘Veldskoen’ as their own brand. How they managed that, when to the footwear industry ‘veldskoen’ is a generic name, other manufacturers are still pondering. While they were at it, they registered Plakkies (flip flops) as well. Sometimes if you don’t know it’s a ridiculous idea, it isn’t.
Beginning with an online store based in Cape Town (which still serves SA consumers), they selected 3 markets – the USA, the UK, and continental Europe, in that order. In some areas, they operate through distributors, in others they have their own warehouses and staff, and they supply retailers and consumers from those warehouses.
To feel their way into the Far East, they’ve developed a customer base in Taiwan, a sizeable, often overlooked market. Other countries will follow.
All these markets are exacting and unforgiving, and would-be suppliers must learn to accept setbacks. Multiple pair, multiple colour orders from individuals may not be what they seem, for example, if the consumer is using mail order as he/she would a shop – trying on many shoes, picking a pair (hopefully) and returning the rest at the supplier’s expense. Those are costs that must be factored into the price.
The USA is the biggest market, and Veldskoen has restructured to grow it. In the last couple of months, it’s been decided that Dreyer will head up the operation there, and Veldskoen’s own warehouse has been moved to Georgia.
Footwear has hitherto not been a stellar export performer for South Africa. A handful of companies are regular exporters, but South Africa as a country is not a recognised source of footwear – or much else in the apparel sector.
On top of everything else, they’ve done it on their own.
“I believe South Africa is a sleeping giant,” Ross Zondagh says. “I believe it could be a major footwear supplier.”