Jono Dangoumou is a bright young lad from the West Rand who's making waves in the local SME scene. We caught up with him to chat about launching his brand, Katu Vellies, from the ground up.
You could start any business - why venture into Vellies?
I received a scholarship to study entrepreneurship in New Zealand. We had to do a marketing assignment and I thought about iconic South African products. Vellies came to mind. After pitching the idea to my classmates I realised that many people were fed up with the quality of Chinese made shoes that dominate the shoe industry. Katu Vellies was the answer to that. A quality, durable shoe that can last for years. I realised that many vellie manufacturers never updated their designs and most were struggling along or even closing. So, I thought that I can take the best elements of a vellie which is its durability and modernise it slightly it would appeal to people. And it did. My class project then developed into a business.
You are known as quite a savvy businessman. Where does this come from?
My father has been an entrepreneur all his life, so I grew up in a family that talks about ideas and business around the dinner table. I find it exciting to try and create something from nothing and seeing an idea take shape in the real world. I get a kick out of creating value for other people and getting rewarded for it.
You studied in New Zealand. How did that go?
I received a scholarship to do a Master in Entrepreneurship. It was an incredible experience. We were a very creative group of entrepreneurs and the course was a very practical take on what it takes to build a successful business. I also realised that South Africa has many opportunities because entrepreneurship is basically problem-solving. There are many problems to solve in developing countries. After returning I was motivated to try something new that is uniquely South African.
What's the one thing they don't teach you in business school that you've learned?
Success isn’t a linear process. Academics usually teach/give the impression that if you follow certain steps and do them well you will be successful. Starting a business is usually one step forward two steps back. Many setbacks followed by minor successes. But if you have the grit to push through then good things can happen.
How do you go about making your brand different from your competitors?
We thrive on feedback from our customers and use the info to improve the shoes. Most fashion brands tell consumers what's cool and what products they should like and use the influence of a famous person to do it. We used a different approach. We put a product out in the market and keep our ears open. By creating this loop of feedback, it helps us in improve the vellies, in the same way, software improves and brings out a better version each year based on what consumers want.
What goes into make a pair of shoes? Is the entire thing made under one roof or do the soles come from a different factory and so on?
In terms of shoemaking there … On one end of the spectrum, you have Chinese factories that make 10 000 generic pairs of shoes a day and on the other artisan Japanese shoemakers that make 50 pairs per year of which every single element of the shoe is handmade and even hand stitched. So there are different ways to make a shoe. We use older tools and machinery that still require human interaction and decision making to make our Katu Vellies. Giving them the unique hand-crafted look. In the workshops we work with 90% of the shoe is made under one roof. But you do source various parts from other places.
Katu Vellies is known for its thriving e-commerce store. Without giving away any secrets, what are the three important points to remember when it comes to creating an online store for your products?
- People should know about the store (Marketing & Build a Brand).
- Because online shopping is still a growing trend in SA (this is growing rapidly) you have to guide the consumer through the online sales process and that may take some human interaction.
- Under promise and over deliver (especially regarding delivery times).
What's the importance of social media in getting your brand out there?
It is important to tell authentic stories and to make consumers part of the story. Your brand has to stand for something important that creates an emotional connection with the consumer. Yes, you sell shoes, but why? For us, it is to change people’s minds to realise that the “fast-fashion” industry is causing labour problems in developing countries and damaging the environment. The textile and clothing industry is one of the contributors to pollution. We want people to buy a quality piece of clothing, love it and wear it for many years. We also want customers to know that everyone in our value-chain receives a fair wage. So by telling this story online people who share the same values respond to it. With the current digital overload, never forget the power of an off-line, word-of-mouth interaction. Wearing a pair of Katu Vellies at a braai has sparked many interesting conversations.
Lastly, why should every single person in Joburg be wearing a pair of Katu Vellies?
Because it is a uniquely South African product, made in South Africa by South Africans.
For more info, visit the Katu Vellies store online.