Why are shoes so important?
“Shoes help children go to school – which is usually far from home and sometimes a compulsory part of their school uniform – they enable them to play sports, protect their feet from cuts, bruises and infections, and prevent soil transmitted diseases,” says 26 year-old Wesley Vos, entrepreneur and founder of social business, Vosk Shoes.
We ask him what compelled him to start his ‘business with a difference’ and how he’s making the start-up work.
What was your background before starting Vosk Shoes?
I studied marketing management and got a job as a financial advisor at Professional Provident Society. After a year I started as a marketing consultant at Tistram Investments. That job also lasted about a year before I decided to start Vosk Shoes.
I believe very strongly in giving to the less fortunate and running my own business meant I’d be in a better position to make a difference. I didn’t just want to work for a company that channeled some of its profits into an intangible CSI programme. So our mission at Vosk Shoes is to give something tangible to people in need with every item sold – ‘buy one, give one’.
How would you describe your business model?
The shoe and fashion brand Toms had a lot of influence on our business model. They have a one-for-one policy that for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair gets donated to someone in need.
Once I started researching this principle I found other companies around the world improving the lives of people less fortunate, such as eye wear company Jimmy Fairly, crochet and knitwear company Krochet Kids International, shirt brand Sevenly, and online retailer stone+cloth. My eyes were opened to the fact that you can run a business/movement profitably and sustainably, and improve people’s lives too.
Why sell shoes?
From a perspective of fixing problems – and there are many – shoes spoke the loudest to me as a starting point. They have a marked physical and psychological impact on a person.
It’s also great for consumers because shoes for them are a norm and a fashion statement, and through supporting Vosk Shoes they know they’ve directly contributed to a child in need. It’s this consumer proximity to helping a needy child that makes it so much more compelling than donating money to charities.
How do you see the company growing?
We’re still very new, having launched in February 2014, and capital restrictions mean we’ve bootstrapped the business. We need to grow in order to supply the whole country, so we’re focused on creating a following and marketing the brand.
We use social media a lot as it appeals to our target market and helps with word-of-mouth, but it’s also very cheap. In the future we want to branch into other product lines to address other local problems like hunger, education and access to clean drinking water.
Do you source or manufacture Vosk Shoes and how does this influence the price point?
For now we source the shoes from China as it isn’t viable to manufacture affordably on a small scale locally (we hope this will change in the future). The style is an internationally popular Argentinian shoe called the ‘alpargata’ that is comfortable, durable, stylish, and appeals to local and international fashion markets.
To determine price threshold, we conducted a survey on Facebook asking colour preference, shoe size, frequency of purchases, preferred method of purchase, and of course the price bracket our target market is prepared to pay. This meant we could come in cheaper than Toms, which are in excess of R500 a pair, yet still be profitable and sustainable.