How South African Shoe Brand Veldskoen Plans to Leverage its Heritage to Win Over the U.S. Market

Everyone in South Africa knows what a Veldskoen is. Now, a shoe company that sells its own version of the 300-year old heritage footwear product is banking on that success story to win over consumers in the U.S. footwear market.

“It’s the most well-known shoe that that nobody outside of Africa has ever heard of,” explained Nick Dreyer, who cofounded “Veldskoen Shoes” in 2016 with Ross Zondagh after seizing the opportunity to build a brand from this iconic product. Veldskoen, which means “field shoes,” got its name from Dutch Settlers who came to South Africa close to 400 years ago. The unique style, which is typically made of hand-stitched leather, has influenced more modern designs like the Clarks Desert Boot, according to Dreyer.

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“There isn’t a Southern African person that doesn’t know what it is,” Dreyer said.

In 2018, California-based Fun Brands and entrepreneurs Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban bought a 50 percent stake in Veldskoen, and began operating the brand’s mainly online U.S. presence out of California. In late 2023, Veldskoen reacquired full ownership of the business and began the process of reconsolidating operations back to South Africa. This, Dreyer said, would enable the brand to be more thoughtful in its approach to expansion and would make Veldskoen’s presence in the U.S. an extension of its identity in South Africa, as opposed to a disconnected sub-brand.

“As champagne is to France, and port is to Portugal, Veldskoen is to South Africa,” Dreyer said. “We felt that it had to be owned wholly by South Africa, and by us, as the custodians of this brand.”

It is this South African-centered mindset that has kept the company’s supply chain based in the region as well. While it may have been more cost effective to outsource production to China, Veldskoen sees itself as an important pillar of local manufacturing by hand-making its shoes in South Africa, using raw materials in the region.

“It’s about sustaining the community,” said Freya Bell-Dreyer, Nick’s wife who does public relations for Veldskoen. “In South Africa, we have a very high unemployment rate and we’d actually be doing the country a disservice if we ever took [the brand] anywhere else or manufactured anywhere else.”

Winning in the U.S.

DHL x Veldskoen <cite>Veldskoen</cite>
DHL x Veldskoen Veldskoen

After bringing ownership back to its South Africa roots, Veldskoen has begun making moves to win over more consumers in the U.S. In Q3 of 2023, the company moved its stateside headquarters from California to Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to being a popular destination for South African transplants in the U.S. (the city boasts a direct flight to Cape Town) Atlanta is also closer to Cape Town’s time zone than California is, which makes global communication less of a hassle.

The next step? Growing the brand’s presence in the market. Veldskoen is doing this through its own DTC channels and is exploring wholesale partnerships with independents and third party retailers online. In marketing the products, Veldskoen plans to emphasize its heritage and authenticity in tandem with its versatility.

“It’s being positioned as everybody should have a pair of Veldskoens in their cabinet,” Dreyer said. “Because it’s this historic, great thing and it goes with all your outfits. You could wear it as a CEO or a waiter. It really is the shoe for everyone.”

The company is also excited about partnership opportunities. It has teamed up to make shoes for companies like Nandos, DHL Express and the South Africa national rugby team, the Springboks.

“That’s a market that we’re really excited to get into in the U.S. because there’s some great companies that we could talk to, by nature of the fact that they’re either founded or run by South Africans,” Dreyer said.

Veldskoen’s U.S. business — which is entirely DTC digital sales — makes up 20 percent of its global business. Dreyer wants to grow this contribution by about five or six times in the next 18 months. Eventually, he believes U.S. business should account for 70 percent of Veldskoen’s total business.

“We learned during our time with our [investing] partners that the U.S. felt the same way about the shoes as we did,” Dreyer said. “Which is that it was really well made with absolutely true authenticity and massive amounts of heritage, probably more than any other brand in the world.”

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