Team SA to wear veldskoene at Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo
Pretoria - SA marathon runner Gerda Steyn set a new women’s record time in Italy last week but she, like the rest of Team South Africa, will not be wearing running shoes at the opening of the Olympic Games.
Instead, the athletes, swimmers and other 300 sportsmen and women of Team SA will wear veldskoene when they carry the South African flag aloft in Tokyo, Japan, for the opening ceremony in less than 100 days’ time.
The Olympics closes a circle for co-founders of the Veldskoen brand, Nick Dreyer, Ross Zondagh, and Nic Latouf – Pretoria Boys’ High old boys who have given the footwear new popularity with their distinctive shoes with brightly coloured soles and laces.
After watching the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Dreyer and Zondagh were unimpressed with the baggy South African tracksuits and green shoes, and tried to imagine what the team should have worn to better represent the country.
They were not alone: there was plenty of controversy over the last two Olympics surrounding the kit which had been supplied by Chinese manufacturers. The green and gold tracksuits at Rio in particular are remembered for being baggy and unflattering.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) even appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation at the time, explaining that no local sponsors had come forward to dress the team.
Zondagh suggested to Dreyer that athletes could wear veldskoene, shoes made of rawhide leather which trace their origin to Khoisan footwear and were adopted by early Dutch settlers in the Cape and, the story goes, were even worn by South African officers during World War 2.
Dreyer realised that “vellies”, while comfortable and durable, may be seen as unfashionable, and so the entrepreneurs worked on ways to reinvent them to be more attractive, coming up with bright soles and laces with names like Springbok (green), Bloem (orange), J-Bay (blue) and Pinotage (pink).
They launched the brand online in 2016 and have expanded into various markets with a percentage of proceeds donated to a worthy local causes, such as “Vellies for Ellies”.
Aside from selling online and in stores such as Woolworths, Veldskoen is making inroads abroad with sales in 28 countries, including the UK – where they were punted as a style item by The Times (which noted that Prince Harry wore them in the bush) – and in the US, where vellies have enjoyed the endorsement of actors Ashton Kutcher and Matthew McConaughey.
In unveiling Veldskoen as a new sponsor, alongside Mr Price Sport, Sascoc president Barry Hendricks said a “new sentiment” had developed among sponsors and the business community to support Team SA and he would announce another local sponsor soon.
The Olympics will introduce the world not only to our star athletes and para-athletes across various codes but to home-grown design. And beyond the Olympics is the dream to launch Veldskoen into space by sending a pair to Mars.