Mark Cuban, second from the left, appears on Shark Tank, which is shown on the ABC Television Network. Picture: ERIC MCCANDLESS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Mark Cuban, second from the left, appears on Shark Tank, which is shown on the ABC Television Network. Picture: ERIC MCCANDLESS VIA GETTY IMAGES

The veldskoen has ditched its image as a hardy farmer’s boot and is stepping into the US market after catching the attention of celebrity investor Mark Cuban and actor Ashton Kutcher.

A Durban-made shoe brand that goes by the same name, Veldskoen, now counts Cuban and Kutcher among its high-profile investors, along with Brian Joffe’s Long4Life. Joffe’s JSE-listed investment vehicle bought 49% of Veldskoen a year ago, aiding its entry into the UK and Europe.

The brand was later introduced to Cuban and Kutcher by a South African expat in California, Steve Watts, who previously received funding from the American duo after appearing on the reality TV series Cuban co-hosts, Shark Tank.

Cuban, who also owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and Kutcher, Watts and Watts’ wife Angela, now have a 50% stake in Veldskoen’s fledgling US business. Kutcher rose to fame after starring in the hit TV series That ’70s Show.

The veldskoen is said to be the predecessor of a style of shoe known internationally as chukka boots, or desert boots.

“We want to position it globally as the first in that category,” Veldskoen co-founder Nick Dreyer told Business Day.

“The reception to the product in the States has been great – they can’t really pronounce it, they call it a vellie – but they like it,” Dreyer said. The brand is made in Durban by e-commerce business DORP, which Dreyer, Ross Zondagh and Nic Latouf founded in December 2016.

The US investment “gives us as good a chance as possible to take a piece of the footwear fashion market in the States”.

Veldskoen has been given access to Cuban’s distribution centre in Houston, “and obviously they have some pretty serious marketing clout”.

“And if we didn’t have their e-commerce expertise, we’d probably be swimming upstream for a lot longer – the US is a massive country and highly competitive,” Dreyer said.

DORP, which also makes flip-flop sandals, plans to “scale quite big in the States, the UK and Europe”.

“We have been through a major planning session with our manufacturer, specifically on Veldskoen, and we’re planning to secure manufacturing scale with the backing of Long4Life and the shoe revenue,” Dreyer said.

Joffe, who founded Bidvest and Bidcorp, bought into DORP after raising R2bn with the listing of Long4Life in April 2017.

Long4Life’s other brands include Sportsmans Warehouse, Outdoor Warehouse, the Fitch & Leedes beverages brand, and Sorbet Group, which operates health and beauty outlets in SA and the UK.

In 2018, Long4Life’s mooted R3.9bn acquisition of local footwear and clothing retailer Rage fell through after investors complained that it would have been forking out too much for the asset.

Joffe said at the time Rage was a fast-growing business, but “its cash conversion was just too low” for his company.

Long4Life has also been looking at opportunities for consolidation in the personal care and wellness industry.