Skinny Sbu Socks – A CASE STUDY: Learnings for others 

The purpose of this post is to help S’busiso Ngwenya, Founder of Skinny Sbu Socks, Build Africa’s Tommy Hilfiger. From this, I hope that many other entrepreneurs can take learnings and apply them appropriately to their business.

NB: ‘The Missed Opportunities’ part was originally published on my Facebook profile.

The Missed Opportunities

Original Skinny Sbu Interview

A great opportunity wasted by Skinny Sbu to create a positive perception for both his personal and business brands. 

A video recording, a piece of content that could have trended for the right reasons. He had the nation’s attention. He had not just people’s ears and eyes, but their hearts too. We were eagerly waiting to hear him. 

He Missed:

• An opportunity to tell his story

• An opportunity to make us really understand the hardships of being a business that’s struggling to grow

• An opportunity to create more opportunities – out of that interview could have been an opportunity to enhance his personal brand, and to use the equity from his personal brand to build assets that could help generate the R5million he needs

• An opportunity to build brand and gain even more followers. For any brand to build a sustainable customer base that can generate sales, you need people to know beyond what you are selling

• An opportunity to pull and attract a network that could have helped build his net worth

He was given one of the biggest mass media platforms. We live in an era of social media and digital content, but never be oblivious to the power of mass media like TV, especially the SABC. TV is still huge and relevant

Being invited onto such a big platform is in of itself an opportunity to start building towards the required R5 million. With that, the video ended up on social media and was trending with mixed reactions

I’m an optimist, and I’d like to believe that whilst he said what he said, I think he wanted to say more, to elaborate, but what he wanted to actually say got reduced to a conversation about cash injection only; “I need R5 million, I don’t need solutions”. I would have loved to hear why he needed that much money, and how he plans to use it. From his frustration on TV, I got the sense that there was more than what he was revealing. 

This was an opportunity for him to break down the R5 million and tell us how he’s going to use it or where it’s going to be spent. He mentioned ‘distribution’, and his ambition to get into the big five (5) retail stores to increase his retail footprint,  because according to him, out of the three facets of distribution (retail, online, orders), retail was the lacklustre performer. 

I’m not familiar with the retail business at that level, but I imagine it would take that much money to realise his dream. 

Whether that amount is accurate or not is not the issue, the point is, I believe that he believes that he had done enough up to this point (5 years since he started) to get the brand out there, hence his response that marketing isn’t his biggest challenge. 

He mentioned that he’d like to build the Tommy Hilfiger of Africa. That’s interesting because Tommy failed a couple of time before Tommy became Tommy. He opened retail stores, but failed. 

The reason Tommy Hilfiger succeeded is because he decided to recruit specialists. The specialists being people who knew how to build strong brands through clever and smart advertising. Tommy Hilfiger employed one of the biggest and best known copywriters/creative of that time. His name is George Lois. George, is a marketing guru, a creative specialist who produced and packaged a marketing campaign that set the trajectory for Tommy Hilfiger’s brand growth. 

Please research how Tommy Hilfiger was launched. It is the perfect demonstration of how brands are built. I think sometimes entrepreneurs get caught up in the idea or notion of investors and cash injections, forgetting about the work (creating value) that’s required to build a successful business and brand. 

The advert that you see below is the great campaign that launched Tommy Hilfiger. Even just reading the advert without the history or context, it’s clear how TH decided to position his brand. 

South African entrepreneurs need to get into the habit of building brands. Building brand simply means creating value that people will be happy to pay for, and actually seek. That means that they need to employ and hire specialists who can help them think about their brands. 

Building brand simply means creating value that people will be happy to pay for, and actually seek.

We can’t solely depend on money being given to us, we need to respect the process of building a brand because even if one gets money invested into their business, if there is no strategy to build brand, the money put may end going to waste (not suggesting that Sbu will waste money). It will be like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

Sowing The Thread To Business Success

Businesses succeed and grow exponentially because they serve a need, whether functional/rational or emotional.

The truth is that in the business that Skinny Sbu Socks operates in, there is competition. The socks business is commoditized. In fact, in the number of SABC interviews that Sbu did, it became clear SSS still has a lot of brand clarity exercises to do because they kept referring to his brand as “Happy Socks”. This is like me starting my own business selling bread, and whenever I do interviews, people refer to my brand as Sasko or Albany. This again, is proof that SSS needs to build a unique conversation and brand assets that will differentiate his brand.

Many people have been asking or advising for Sbu to diversify, but the challenge is not just diversification, whether his offering is strong enough we can debate the whole day. The fact is, without a clear and distinct brand, even if SSS were to diversify, its (the brand) role will remain unclear, commoditized, and will continue to face similar challenges.

Also, there are multiple aspects of diversification. What does he need to diversify? His offering or who he is targeting? He can diversify by getting into other forms of fashion like ties or hats. Or, he could diversify his target market. At the moment, it seems as though there is one type of target audience or group, “men looking for premium socks”. By targeting men only, there’s a missed opportunity to target other groups like children and women.


SSS brand needs proper strategic work that will help it tap into untapped opportunities.

Let’s just say Sbu is selling bread and not socks, what would make his bread better than any other bread? Whatever your answers are, take that thinking and apply it to the socks business.

Sbu needs to create a demand for his brand. There are so many insights into socks that he could tap into that would unlock opportunities to market differently. To position his brand uniquely within the fashion business.


The below could be an approach to help give the brand some PR, talk-ability and consistency:

Imagine if he would go into schools socks market. Design socks for school kids in different colours, gray, black, navy, etc.

Insight into kids and school uniform:

Kids in school like and want to wear their uniform mostly in the early stages of their schooling career, and over time, the uniform becomes boring – we see kids wearing uniform, and mixing it up with civilian or home clothing. Some teens or school going kids don’t even wear the entire school uniform as per the guidelines or prescriptions – they sometimes wear branded sneakers (based on this behaviour, there is a gap and need from teens to make their uniforms a little bit more exciting).

He could make wearing school socks really cool. School socks aren’t meant to be boring, so imagine SSS branded school socks? These would form part of accepted attire. 

Also, some kids can’t afford school uniform, imagine SSS doing a “buy one pair of skinny Sbu Socks, and we will donate another pair to needy kids” initiative (not an entirely new concept, but it is relevant and could work).


By tapping into the school socks segment, Sbu could target businesses that can buy in bulk. Imagine if he convinces a bank (he is currently working with Capitec so this is a network connect and current client that could be his first school socks buyer) to buy an entire school socks. This moves his business from single units to bulk buying.

Also, by doing that, he’d be the darling of SA. And guess what, corporates love those sort of initiatives. Corporates have big budgets related to CSI or corporate citizenship. This could present corporates with something that they could invest in, every single year. That’s a sizable number of socks bought by corporates for kids in need. This, giving SSS a standard income every year.

That’s a win-win situation because it is an easy way for corporates to do a feel good project without exerting too much energy (the more simpler a CSI initiative, the more likely corporates are in investing in it). Corporates would line up in front of his door, guess to do what? To give SSS the R5 million he needs, but not as a hand out or pure cash injection, but rather as a business partnership. This emphasizing the point I made earlier about the need to create value, i.e.: giving people a powerful reason to choose your brand.

That can be sustainable because we won’t solve poverty any time soon, so there will always be needy kids, unfortunately. He’d be adding value, thereby creating an insatiable need for his brand.

So he’d be doing great work for the country and growing his business at the same time.


All of the above means? You guessed it, a brand marketing strategy is required.

The school socks initiative could be one of his brand building pillars. Through this pillar, he could drive a whole new conversation around having good quality socks. He could drive his narrative of “socks being an important aspect to anybody’s life”. Many people think that socks are just socks, but if SSS were to do brand building work that made us see socks in a new and refreshed way, there’d be less brand confusion and people would not refer to his brand as “Happy Socks”.

Everything related to business needs a strategy. Until entrepreneurs actually believe this, businesses will not grow at the desired pace, businesses will struggle to see growth. They will just get by. A brand marketing strategy can help your brand stand out and increase the demand for it.

Entrepreneurs need to invest in brand building.

The truth is, business growth not only requires financial investments, it also requires intelligence investment.

Let’s Help SSS Become The Tommy Hilfiger Of Africa: How SSS Can Start Re-building For Growth

Every business, even big ones go through a necessary transformation, and that transformation is called, ‘REBRANDING’. One of South Africa’s biggest banks has just gone through a rigorous re-branding phase – essentially, what (absa) has done, is to re-introduce itself to not just the public, but internal and primary stakeholders – these are people who have invested interest in the business. 

One of the benefits of doing a re-brand is that it helps instil confidence in those who are interested in the brand, including consumers. Many people have been proclaiming that Skinny Sbu needs to diversify his brand and offering, in layman’s terms, what people are asking SSS to do is a re-introduction into the market with a diverse portfolio of products and services. This is one process that every brand will need to go through, business markets, people and competition are always in a state of flux, therefore one needs to constantly adjust.

The other benefit of doing a re-branding exercise is that your brand becomes top-of-mind and people will start to consider it as they are charmed by the new look, voice and products/services that you bring forward. 

At any given time, all businesses need to re-introduce themselves as refreshed and new, if they don’t, they will suffer financially as more competitors who offer better and cheaper offerings, becoming more appealing. 

Why do you think Nokia struggled and Kodak died? In business, there is no special treatment, the market will decide, meaning, people will decide if they want your products and services or not. Nokia faded because they failed to understand the market and where things were going. Kodak suffered from the same feat. They just didn’t adjust and were not smart enough. 

Let’s not get it twisted though, businesses do need money to operate and grow. That’s why even big private corporations go public so that they can raise capital that they can then use to improve their business. Now the question is, until you raise that money, what can and should you do in the mean time? 

You can still be clever with your business until the money is raised. In fact, you being clever with your business will attract your investors, which are your customers. 

Entrepreneurship is like Hip-Hop. Anybody can start a career on soundcloud. But having a soundcloud account is not good enough. 

You need to get your music out there. For example:

  • Give people your music, give your music to content producers so that they can use it as background music. 
  • Go perform at small events.
  • Go perform at big events.
  • Go to interviews at community radio stations.
  • Go to interviews at national radio stations. 
  • Create music about current affairs. Be proactive with your career to drive and push towards relevance. 
  • Create your own video content and use your own music as background music.
  • There are budding content creators, ask them to use your music. 

Now take the above principle or ideas and use them for your business; whatever business you are in, even if you are in the socks business. Examples of how Skinny Sbu can create hype and excitement around his brand consistently:

  • Do a nude photoshoot where the models are only wearing your socks (it’s provocative, it’ll get the people going – call it the “Ultimate Accessory” – make people think differently about socks)
  • Do content videos on why your socks are better for one’s confidence (that’s if you want to go the confidence or emotional route, but anything luxurious tends to be related to confidence)
  • Do a content piece on the importance of having good quality socks when buying new shoes (E.G. people are always buying shoes, new shoes should always go with new socks – make people believe that new shoes = new socks and that new socks = SSS). This also provides an opportunity for a partnership with shoe brands. Therefore…
  • Show people that your socks can be worn with any type of shoe, sneakers and maybe even sandals (This will give people an option and they will get a sense of “WHEN” , “HOW” & definitely “WHY” they should choose your brand. People are always looking for new information. One of the most watched content on YouTube are “How to” videos. The principle here being that people are always interested in how things work or how things can be done).
  • Produce limited edition socks (This provides an opportunity to be creative with your socks. Also an opportunity to create talk-ability around your brand. Limited edition anything always works. An opportunity to produce themed socks)
  • Create a competition to find a fashion designer who could win an opportunity to design a pair (Collaboration with younger designers always works – this will allow SSS to create interesting content series and introduce us into his business).
  • Design a female collection – are the socks unisex or are they for men only? Another business growth opportunity is to target women. Make socks fashionable in their world. Women are a lucrative market that’s often overlooked (This provides a new revenue stream for business growth)
  • Kids collection – similar to the women’s collection, this is an opportunity to tap into untapped markets within the socks industry. I haven’t done the research, but I haven’t come across a socks business or brand that targets kids
  • What about a babies’ collection? Imagine those cute sized socks for babies? Lovely!  
  • Sport – most sporting codes, as part of the uniform, require socks. I mean, I know that sporting teams have gear sponsors in the form of Nike and Adidas, but perhaps through proper research and a solid case packaged, a possible partnership with either the national or domestic teams may arise. You never know until you enquire and follow through


I cannot argue against Sbu needing money to build and grow his business, but whilst we are waiting for that angel investor to come, SSS can do things in the meantime, that will help distribute his product and move sales significantly. What if the R5 million comes in the next two years, what is going to happen in the mean time? Well, he can find other means to sell his products to maintain consistency and drive sales. 

Part of growing a business is collaboration. If one wants to grow, there will be a requirement to partner with others to reach success. If distribution is Sibusiso’s biggest hurdle, then 2018 is a great time to be alive, and to run a business because technology provides a multitude of solutions. 

Gone are there days when we solely relied on traditional distribution (bricks and mortar retail outlets). Today, technology provides tools and ways in which we can conveniently get products into consumers’ hands. 

One of those opportunities for SSS is to partner up with already established online retailers like Take-a-lot or partner with star-up logistics companies like, Remit Logistics, founded by Khaya Ngcobo, which delivers goods from food to artificial hair. 

In Conclusion

One needs to be constantly working at their brand and business. One needs to always be on their toes. One needs to be always thinking of new ways to improve. To do better, faster and definitely simpler. 

As a brand, it’s important to always be top of mind – why do you think the likes of Chicken Licken, Nando’sand KFC are always advertising? You know what they say; “out of sight, out of mind”. Being top of mind means relevance and creates an environment where your brand is consistently considered.

But you can’t do the above if you don’t have a plan or strategy on how to build your brand. One needs to think about the future of their brands. 

Without thinking too much about it, socks are a commodity. But to me, socks are like toilet paper, they’ll never run out of fashion. The question is, when the need for socks arises, will people think of SSS as a brand or will they think of any pair? Do people even think brand when they are looking for socks? When do people start thinking about socks even? When do they consider buying them? Is it when they buy new shoes or when the old sock gets a hole? Answers to these questions will unravel opportunities that SSS can tap into and leverage. 

Even if your business is succeeding, you still need to continuously think ahead. In fact, when your business is experiencing growth, that’s the best time to strategize, because your mind tends to be healthier, clearer and you are less likely to make desperate decisions. 

Find someone who can help you think about your brand and business. Spend a day or two solely brainstorming on ideas for growth and brand strategy development. Like I always say, anybody can start a business, but to build a strong brand requires a different energy and mindset. 

I wish nothing but consistent success for Sbu. I genuinely hope that his business and brand grow to the levels of Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford. 

Strategy Saves Lives.

PS: Sbu doesn’t have to take the recommended routes, he can take an alternative way to build his brand, the point I’m making is that he has to keep the momentum of building and creating so that he builds equity, which will increase the value of his brand. The more he is making noise about his brand, the better the brand gets in terms of being top of mind and the more demand it garners. 

PSS: Congratulations to Sbu for acquiring R250 000 in funds to start up the online store. In the interview with the SABC, Sbu noted that his biggest challenge has distribution, and with this support by Creative Mind Space, it is a good move and is indicative of being heard and listened to.

Joe Human, Creative Mind Space Director & Sbusiso Ngwenya, Skinny Sbu Socks Founder

Being top of mind is one of the key metrics to ensuring that your products and services are considered when buyers are making purchasing decisions.

Nobody knows the SSS business better than Sbu, and so the above is provided with general context. An in-depth analysis of the business may reveal key nuances that may provide foe even better ideas and strategic builds.

Thank you for reading. 

#Strategy #Thinkerneur #StrategySavesLives