Meet The Man Behind VOSK Shoes: The Footwear Brand That’s Fighting Shoelessness
Not Just For Kicks
Whether you’re completing a stylish outfit with a pair of sneakers, shining your classiest pair of loafers for a business meeting or lacing up your trainers for a morning jog, footwear is an everyday part of most people’s lives. It’s also big business. Brands have poured major funds into collabs with athletes and celebs in order to widen their audience and increase their market share.
There are some brands, however, that walk a different line when it comes to making a profit – the ones that aim to give back to those who have less. VOSK shoes is one. Founder Wesley Vos has dedicated his local brand to making a difference.
Body, Mind & Sole
View this post on Instagram
“With every pair of VOSK sneakers purchased, we give a new pair of shoes to a child in need. That’s our philosophy,” says Vos. After studying marketing at Stellenbosch University, the now-31-year-old entrepreneur decided to create a business with a greater purpose.
“Working for a ‘boss’ never sat right with me. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never knew what my business would be,” he admits. “I stumbled on the concept of leveraging a profitable business to improve the lives of less fortunate people – the ‘buy one, give one’ concept.”
The next step was settling on a product. Wesley’s desire to give back and his love for sneakers became the driving force behind VOSK. “I chose shoes. Who doesn’t love shoes?”
It was the fulfilment of a longstanding dream to do good in the world. “I vividly remember watching TV in 2004 after the tsunami hit South-East Asia. The devastation brought tears to my eyes,” he recalls. “I felt utterly helpless, and all I wanted to do was help. That feeling never really went away.”
Twelve years later, Wesley finally found a way to fulfil his need to help those who are victims of their circumstances. He began working on the business that, two years later, he would launch as VOSK.
Footprints For Change
“To make our shoes unique, we designed the sole of our sneakers to have the African continent on the bottom, so you can ‘Imprint Africa wherever you go’. This allows people to leave a trail of their origin wherever they travel around the world,” says Wesley.
Initially, he wasn’t sure how VOSK would manage to be charitable, but he knew he had to find a good cause to focus on before taking the brand any further. The only way to find a suitable charity was to do charity work.
“I went with some friends and family to an orphanage in Malmesbury. There I saw the volunteers washing kids’ feet while talking to them about life, their dreams and their interests, before handing each one a new pair of shoes. I thought this was amazing,” he says.
The group of people that he saw was Samaritan’s Feet, an international organisation that facilitates various “Giving Days” for orphanages and charities. They have given shoes to over seven million people around the globe. “That’s where our partnership started,” says Wesley.
Through meeting with Samaritan’s Feet, Wesley learnt all about the fight against shoelessness, and how more than one-and- a-half billion people around the world are infected with parasitic diseases transmitted through contaminated soil. This results in limited mobility, which often prevents adults from being able to work, and stops children from going to school.
One method of preventing this is by wearing proper footwear. “At VOSK and Samaritan’s Feet, we want to do everything we can to stop the spread of these life-altering diseases by washing feet, providing shoes, and encouraging individuals to get involved. We empower people to help those in need when they buy VOSK. If we can keep selling shoes, we can keep giving shoes.”
One Step At A Time
From that initial decision to make shoes back in 2016, it took Wesley two years of hard work before he finally brought his brand to life last year. And like any business launch, it wasn’t without its share of setbacks. At one stage, Wesley even moved to Durban and lived with a friend in order to work with a vulcanising manufacturer close by.
“After about three months of sourcing materials, building connections and learning about shoemaking, I felt confident that production could commence within that week. So I grabbed my stuff, and made my way back to Cape Town.”
But his return to the Mother City didn’t bring good news. “That’s when it all started: an endless array of ‘supplier issues’ and ‘technical problems’. At one point, we lent them thousands of rands to replace a boiler, which apparently had broken.
“Eighteen months later, I finally realised we had been conned by delay tactics to get money out of us. And we had no final product to show for it. It was a bitter pill to swallow,” Wesley admits.
View this post on Instagram
Breaking the news to his investors was tough, but they stood by Wesley and his brand. “I’ve been blessed with amazing business partners who are just as mission- focused as me. They see the social impact that we can make in South Africa, so we made plans to move forward.”
He also had to make compromises. Wesley had always wanted to launch a locally-manufactured South African product, but business owners can’t always be choosers. So at the beginning of last year, Wesley and his team decided to reach out to manufacturers outside SA.
“I started to communicate with a few manufacturers in China, to see who could create our sneakers for us. We managed to find a reputable one, and launched our sneakers in August that year.”
But a year later, Wesley is realising yet another dream, with the launch of his new ‘Handmade in SA’ range. “Here comes the happy part,” he jokes. “Early this year, a fellow sneaker lover referred me to a footwear sourcing company in Durban.
I sent them a pair of our sneakers, not thinking too much of it.
“Two weeks later, members of that company flew down to Cape Town and presented a sneaker sample of premium quality that they had made right here in South Africa!”
Now, VOSK is proudly manufactured in SA, and Wesley hopes that this will create more jobs for locals as the supply chain grows. “Premium footwear, handcrafted in South Africa. It’s a dream come true.”
A Fitted Future
Now that he’s achieved his goal to establish a sustainable business that gives back to a greater cause and is locally manufactured, Wesley hopes to grow the brand’s range of products and increase its popularity, as well as tackling more global issues.
“By now, I’m sure you understand that we love people, and we love our country. Another thing we really love is our environment,” he says. “We recently started discussions with material suppliers who make yarn out of plastic bottles and upcycled materials. By using this yarn we will be able to save water and energy, and lower our CO2 emissions.
“We’re still very early in this development, but will eventually be able to offer sneakers with a dramatically reduced carbon footprint. We also plan on launching our premium leather footwear later this year, or early 2020. We’ve found the most incredible local tanneries, who will be supplying us with high-quality leather.”
Right now, Wesley’s business is still very much in the ‘owner-does- everything’ phase. “I’m the CEO- janitor-designer-administrator,” he chuckles.
But he’s recently hired the company’s first permanent employee, who heads up logistics and what he calls the ‘Customer Happiness Department’. “She makes sure our customers receive their sneakers when they order online, and assists in that regard.”
And the team will soon be expanding. “Once we launch our ‘Handcrafted in South Africa’ sneakers, we will be rolling out into physical retail stores across the country. So we’ll be scrambling for new employees soon.”
More Better Man Stories:
|How This Guy Is Taking The Plunge To Save The Oceans||This SA Wildlife Photographer was on The Jimmy Fallon Show||This Life Coach Used Rugby To Beat Depression|