South African footwear brand celebrates 100 years

South African footwear brand celebrates 100 years

Olympic International toasts its centenary by looking to the future

Stuart Hopwood, Head of Group Marketing at Bolton Footwear, custodian of the Olympic International brand

Few South African companies can boast 100 successful years in business. It remains a big deal and for good reason. It is reported that less than half of all new business ventures survive their first five years.

Morné du Plessis in action

Leading footwear brand, Olympic International celebrates this incredible milestone this year – 100 years of excellence in sports footwear, design and manufacturing. When the company opened its doors in 1918, the brand was inspired by the two biggest sports in South Africa at the time – football and rugby. Today, Olympic International continues to be inspired by and inspire the excellent sportsmen and women who are changing the face of sport in our country, on the African continent as well as abroad.

Says Stuart Hopwood, Head of Group Marketing at Bolton Footwear: “Olympic International continues to be a passionate supporter of some of the fastest growing and more technical sports locally, including netball, hockey, athletics, road and mountain bike cycling, tennis as well as hiking. The brand is sought-after for its lightweight, durable, trendy and affordable selection of sports shoes that cater to both the beginner as well as elite sports enthusiast.”

Inspired and spurred on by the proud and brave tradition of the World Olympic Games Movement, the brand boasts a long list of achievements. “The original five famous rings, symbolic of the Olympic Games movement and each representing a continent of the globe, originally appeared on every shoe manufactured. To avoid a clash of interest, a sixth ring was later added to the original logo,” he explains.

In the early ‘70s, South African rugby union football player, coach, and administrator Danie Craven, one of the most influential and controversial figures in the history of the sport, approached the company to manufacture specialist boots for scrummaging and place kicking. Hopwood adds: “Our company initially came up with the idea of the ‘place kicker’, but Mr. Rugby, as Craven was known, also requested the design of the ‘scrum boot’ and ‘schools boot’ for boys, which we developed, tested and manufactured.”
Morné du Plessis, a former South African rugby union player often described as one of the Springboks’ most successful captains, also helped with the development of the boots. “Morne was our Sales Manager at the time, in what he described as ‘a highly competitive market’. He also helped with the development of specialised soccer boots and training shoes, which were enthusiastically received by the sports mad population of South Africa. We soon added running spikes and road running shoes when road running became such a huge craze during the eighties and nineties, which fed and fuelled the popularity of Olympic shoes, making them a major brand of choice,” he says.

During the period in the eighties and early nineties when South Africa was isolated from world sport, some international shoe brand names desisted from allowing their products to be sold in S.A. During that time of boycotts, the Olympic brand became even further entrenched in the psyche of local athletes and sports people of all genres. “This time also saw school sports and club sports rapidly become the popular focus of attention, gaining many participants. The attention was on local sports now, due to our national teams being banned from world competitions,” Hopwood adds.

After normalisation of South African sport in 1994, the world focused its attention on South Africa, tours and visits of all sporting codes becoming the order of the day. A massive surge forward in shoe technology emerged all over the world and this has remained unabated ever since. “The Olympic sport shoe range became engineered to the very high standards demanded by the sporting public. New world records were set almost on a monthly basis, and massive financial sport sponsorships became popular,” he explains.

“Since then, our ranges have kept pace with the times and today include all the latest performance enhancing designs and technology, thus gaining popularity and increased sales due to more acceptance from our sporty nation. Leading world technology is standard application in all our shoe designs, backed up by an international quality assurance system.”

Every new project is designed to meet with international standards, and then rigorously tested and controlled before being launched locally. “As an example, we’ve signed a two-year partnership with the South Africa Hockey Association and Netball South Africa. We continually strive to grow awareness around the improved technical capabilities of our sport shoes and there is no better way to raise this awareness than amongst the top athletes who use them. As a brand, we look towards the future. We have a great team that always stays ahead of the latest developments to offer our clients only the very best!” concludes Hopwood.

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