- Player: Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya
- Company: Skinny Sbu Socks
- Established: 2013
- Contact: skinnysbu.co.za
You know what’s cool and fun? Not socks, that’s what. Socks are boring and dull – unless you’re a marathon runner searching for the perfect non-chafing sock, it’s a grudge purchase at best. There is no way to take an item like a sock and make it ‘cool’.
Well, as it turns out, this isn’t true at all. Socks are cool — more particularly, socks that are colourful, distinctive and bold are cool. As a clothing item, the sock is experiencing something of a renaissance. Although distinctive socks were popular in the European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries, they were relegated for many, many years to the underclass of the undergarment.
No longer. The sock is back. And one of its biggest enthusiasts is Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya. Moreover, Ngwenya is no late-comer to the sock revolution. Even as a child, he enjoyed collecting socks.
When his collection had reached epic proportions, Ngwenya’s mom asked him why he didn’t start selling socks on the side. Was there a market for it? As it turned out, there was. He started out simply – buying socks that were on sale at large retailers and reselling them to friends and acquaintances. He had a good eye for style, and people were keen to buy what he was selling.
Lesson: Ngwenya didn’t start by investing loads in his sock business. His mass-produced socks were acting as minimum viable products (MVPs). He wasn’t going to make a lot of money from them, but he now had an elegantly-stockinged foot in the door. Ngwenya had evidence that he had discovered a viable business opportunity.
Build a brand
Even at the start, Ngwenya realised the importance of creating a brand, especially in the fickle and image-conscious world of fashion.
“I looked at all the big fashion houses and realised that a lot of them were named after the people who had founded them, so I decided to call my brand Skinny Sbu Socks,” says Ngwenya.
As the company has grown and it has started to create its own high-quality products, Ngwenya has positioned the brand at the premium end of the spectrum.
“Don’t be apologetic about your pricing. If people believe there is value, they will pay the price. We want to attract people who don’t mind paying R200 for a pair of socks.”
Lesson: Be sensitive to perceived value. Why are Apple products so expensive? Sure, they’re expensive to produce, but people are also willing to pay a lot for them. Thanks to the great user-experience and elegant design, Apple products have a very high perceived value.
Perception is reality
Before Ngwenya had even properly started producing his own sock creations, he was thinking about his brand image. He bought socks from Mr Price, repackaged them, and gave them away to celebrities at the South African Fashion Week. Suddenly, celebrities were posting images of ‘his’ socks on Instagram.
Lesson: Thanks to social media, there are more marketing opportunities for small businesses than ever. However, there is a lot of noise out there, so you need to find a way to stand out. Giving something away for free is always a good way to get people to ‘endorse’ it.
Stick to what you know
Even though Skinny Sbu socks are now unique creations, they still aren’t produced in-house. “We focus on design and have the actual sock production outsourced. Our socks are made from high-quality materials and need to be perfect, so we leave the production to people who know what they are doing. Design is our area of speciality, not production.
Lesson: “Do what you do best and outsource the rest,” management guru Peter Drucker famously said. By trying to take on complex functions such as manufacturing too early, you can easily end up bankrupting your business. Stick to what you know and outsource the rest.