Bata heir on fitting in the family shoes
Bata’s primary consumer group is generally families, but for many, there is still the nostalgic association with school shoes or safari boots. Quick to burst that perception, Thomas says, “We would like people to see the changes that have been happening, and when people come, they’re often actually surprised by the strides we’ve been making.”In his own closet, he says that he has too many shoes to count.
Bata heir on fitting in the family shoes
Thomas Archer Bata, a fourth generation Bata family member and currently the chief marketing officer of Bata Global. Photo | Courtesy
Having been in Kenya since the 1930s, Bata shoes are ingrained in the larger Kenyan heritage, with many having worn either safari boots, sandals, toughees for school children or their good old rubber wear at some point. They currently have over 150 stores in Kenya coupled with wholesale business through dealers in small towns.“We have stores in over 70 countries plus e-commerce and distributors in other others,” says Thomas Archer Bata, a fourth generation Bata family member and currently the chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Bata Global. “Kenya is one of our older markets, and we sell about 28 million shoes a year in the country.”
We are seated at Sankara Nairobi and his dress code is smart-casual with khaki slacks, a blue blazer and Bata trainers. Growing up in a family that had already built an empire, he didn’t think he would actually end up in the business. “As a child, my parents were working in the company so my holidays were spent going to shoe factories and I was always envious of everyone going to the beach. For the longest time, I didn’t think I would get in the family business, to be honest.”“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at the time, but I thought I wanted to be a lawyer so I studied Political Science, which is a step towards that direction. Then I decided that I actually like business more than law. After school I got an opportunity with one of the largest shoe companies in the world just by pure coincidence, and I went there to work in marketing,” says Thomas. “When my dad retired from the business, he asked if I would consider making the move. It took some convincing, but there has been no looking back since.”Bata’s primary consumer group is generally families, but for many, there is still the nostalgic association with school shoes or safari boots. Quick to burst that perception, Thomas says, “We would like people to see the changes that have been happening, and when people come, they’re often actually surprised by the strides we’ve been making.”Some of the changes he is referring to include a new collection called Bata Red Label which was unveiled this year, designed in North America by the ALDO Group featuring trendy international designs targeted at millennials. They have also been upgrading their collections of the popular North Star sneakers with modern designs and colours, as well as inviting Kenyan lifestyle influencers to key events like their recent fashion week in Milan to spread the message about the new innovations in the company. Still, Thomas notes that the company is not looking to release a high-end luxury collection.“You will never find very expensive shoes in Bata. You might find a fashionable shoe, which costs $100 somewhere, but with us it will likely cost about half. ”When it comes to men, he says that they traditionally wore fairly simple black shoes, but that’s changing. “Women judge men by the shoes they wear, and now it’s become acceptable to wear colourful shoes, sneakers and to try new styles. Men should be adventurous with what they buy, particularly since a lot of trends are based in sneakers. Still, it’s always nice to have a couple of staples like browns, leather and suedes.”In his own closet, he says that he has too many shoes to count. “If I had to guess, I would probably say around 200.” Not all of these are Bata though, since he believes that competition is healthy and consumers deserve choice.“A lot of well known athletic brands do a good job, and you have some luxury brands like Manolo Blahnik who can be very bold and innovative, taking risks with their products because that’s what they’re known for. In the mid-priced mass market segment, there isn’t a lot of innovation given the target consumers.Still, there are a lot of smaller brands coming up that have a niche and are trying things that haven’t been done before”.