The back story
Describing his deep passion for socks, Ngwenya shares a personal anecdote about his mother and how she was key in shaping his love of socks.
“When I was growing up my mother used to instruct me to wash my socks inside out and at the time that used to irritate me a lot,” he says. “But what I didn’t realise is that it instilled a sense of attention to detail where my socks were concerned and eventually I started becoming conscious of what socks I was wearing, how I was wearing them and what I was wearing them with,” he adds introspectively.
Since he’s 1,9m tall, Ngwenya’s pants never reached all the way down to his shoes and he always felt he needed to compensate for the space between his shoes and where his pants would end. He did this by wearing very colourful socks as part of his overall style and look.
By 2012, Ngwenya had already collected over 70 pairs of socks, mostly by international brands.
At this point he spotted a gap in the South African market and had the idea of making a business out of designing home-grown superior quality socks .
“I had just bought 13 pairs of socks at a retail store and my mother was like, ‘Actually, why don’t you start selling these socks since you have so many of them?'” Ngwenya says.
On that day, he repackaged the socks he had bought and started reselling them for R50 a pair. Later that evening he attended SA Fashion Week and was networking with a number of celebrities when they started tweeting about the “colourful socks” they had seen. “That’s when the brand started happening.”
He continued repackaging, rebranding and reselling socks he had sourced for the next two months, until former Top Billing presenter Tumisho Masha sent him a text that read, “I want to help you grow your business.”
At Masha’s invitation Ngwenya was able to attend a hook-up dinner where he met two businessmen who were keen on investing in his brand. They made major contributions to the business side of Skinny Sbu Socks but by this point Ngwenya was already making his own designs and not repackaging socks he’d bought.
While pitching his idea and expanding on his vision at the hook-up dinner, Ngwenya was spotted by a CNN employee who then offered him a three-minute interview on their “African Start-Up” feature.
“This gave me and my brand international media exposure and that was a breakthrough for Skinny Sbu Socks. We capitalised a lot on the attention we received and used that to grow our brand further than it initially would have at the time.”
“I don’t even want to lie to you, we make a great product. A product of superior quality, and I think that’s why we’ve been doing so well,” Ngwenya says proudly.
He deliberately looks out for and follows international trends. “For example, we don’t have a winter range. Only because we don’t want to market ourselves as a winter product, but rather as an accessory one uses to enhance whatever they are wearing.”
Skinny Sbu Socks only makes 250 pairs of each of its designs, creating an exclusivity known only to a few other sock brands in the world.
“Great artistry and craftsmanship go into every design, paired with a very compelling story, so one of the reasons we limit our designs is to maintain this authenticity, and because our clients enjoy exclusivity.”
The one thing SSS prides itself on the most is the fact that it is a 100% South African brand.
“I had an option of manufacturing my socks in China at close to nothing, but I chose to to do it in South Africa at a much more expensive price, because I want to contribute to the growth of our own economy,” Ngwenya explains.
SSS is a product made for the modern man, a man who understands his clothes and who is attentive to detail.
Ngwenya’s story is testament to the fact that no passion is inferior to another and that if you come up with a good enough idea and work hard to reach your goal, success will be sure to follow.