By Gontse Sello
After a public downfall, Sibusiso Ngwenya of Skinny Sbu Socks is on the rise again and determined to not make the same mistakes.
Ngwenya got candid with King David as he relayed his entrepreneurial journey, his glory days, public downfall and his comeback.
Ngwenya became a force in the fashion industry after starting his brand with only R70. His colourful socks quickly gained popularity amongst celebrities and anyone who appreciated fashion. But after five years in the business, it looked like Skinny Sbu Socks was on the verge of closing doors.
Sbu is now back in business with a hunger to break into the international market.
In 2013, 21-year-old Ngwenya, who was a fashion enthusiast, came across Happy Socks, an international sock brand that made colourful, playful yet formal socks for men.He realised that there was no local equivalent. This happened at the time when he wanted to start a business in the fashion industry.
“I was exposed to the industry and I used to attend local fashion shows when I saw an opportunity. I wanted to have a piece of cloth that would be an easy start for me, and it was socks.”
He used Happy Socks as inspiration.
“I studied the international Happy Socks brand and I copied everything about it. Even one of my best-selling designs, I copied from them. That was until I found my own voice and a way of telling my own story.”
Following his interview with an international TV station (CNN), he went from selling from a paperback to working with corporates and multiple investors, the brand was growing big and fast.
Skinny Sbu Socks was a household name. Or at least that’s what it looked like until in 2018 when he came out publicly asking for R5 million because his business was struggling and he had sold everything to keep it from going under.
He told Mashabela in the podcast that he attributes his entrepreneurial spirit to his grandmother, who used to say one must be able to work with their hands.
"I used to take care of money when I had little money, but with an influx of money, I struggled. I didn't take care of money anymore. It is a constant struggle. I also find it hard to operate in the public domain. Yes, I am a public persona and I have always shared my ups and downs with people, but how do I serve the people and not care about them and what they say," he added.
Publicly admitting that his business was not doing well was hard for Ngwenya and so was having to go back to using public transport or generally living within his means.
"When I lost everything, I felt like everyone was judging me. People would ask for a selfie in a taxi and I was so gutted. I didn't know if the person admired me or took a picture to laugh at me."
Ngwenya is building himself up again and ready to make a success of his life. Earlier this year his brand was the only African brand selected to be in the 64th Grammy awards gift bag.
He said that he wants to sell his brand to the internationally acclaimed luxury group, Kering Group which houses leading brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexandra McQueen to name a few.
"I feel like I'm 19 year's old, everything is exciting. I have been spending a lot of my time in New York, for me it is exciting."
He admitted though that he had to let go of what success is at 30.
"I was scared of turning 30. It was the ultimate age, and I had my own pressure. But when I turned 30, I realised it was another age,"
"Then I had Skinny Sbu to live up to and I had to let go of my own prison. Now I am free," he added.