Skinny Sbu Socks’ founder on debt and de­pres­sion

Money trou­bles, the death of his gogo, a car crash and de­pres­sion – af­ter deal­ing with blow af­ter blow, Skinny Sbu Socks’ Sibu­siso Ngwenya is on the road to re­cov­ery


FOR a while he was at the top of his game. Every­one from celebs to stylish plebs wanted his brightly coloured socks, a pop­u­lar cloth­ing chain paid big bucks to stock his quirky cre­ations and over­seas man­u­fac­tur­ers wanted in on the ac­tion too.

Sibu­siso Ngwenya, bet­ter known as Skinny Sbu af­ter the pop­u­lar sock brand he founded, was fly­ing high and liv­ing the good life. Then he dropped a bomb­shell.

“Hon­estly, I feel like giv­ing up now,” he re­cently posted on so­cial me­dia. “I’ve used all I have, sold my car to save the busi­ness, use my per­sonal cash I make from speak­ing & en­dorse­ments to grow this sock busi­ness. Things are not as fancy. I’m tired, drained [sic].”

The young busi­ness­man van­ished with­out a trace fol­low­ing his tweet – prompt­ing his friends to reach out for help via so­cial me­dia. “Hey every­one, please help us find @skin­nysbu,” Sibu­siso’s friend and fel­low busi­ness­man Tshepo Mohlala posted.

The cre­ator of Tshepo The Jean Maker jeans took to Twit­ter af­ter Sibu­siso’s aunt con­tacted him. “Just got a call from his aunt Lebo to in­form me [he is miss­ing],” Tsepho said. “I last saw him on Mon­day af­ter din­ner at Mabo­neng, he was wear­ing grey shorts & a white tee. Thought he was okay.”

Turns out the young busi­ness­man was any­thing but okay. We meet Sibu­siso (27) at Dr SK Mat­seke Hospi­tal in Diep­kloof in Soweto, where he’s be­ing treated as an out­pa­tient. He sought help at the psy­chi­atric unit af­ter his friend, ac­tress Shoki Mok­gapa, took her own life af­ter a long bat­tle with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

Ca­su­ally clad in a grey track­suit, his sig­na­ture socks with flip-flops and sun­glasses, Sibu­siso opens up to DRUM about his break­down. “I have some form of de­pres­sion,” he says. “But in our com­mu­ni­ties you get crit­i­cised for say­ing you are weak and un­der pres­sure. They tell you to snap out of it. But how do you snap out of some­thing?”

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view the sock­brand founder shares a sober tale of fly­ing too close to the sun. H AVING started in 2013 with only R70, Sibu­siso’s busi­ness grew so much he re­calls hav­ing R2 mil­lion in his bank ac­count two years ago. “Money was com­ing in un­con­trol­lably. But I wasn’t ed­u­cated about that level of money and power. It’s over-

whelm­ing and I blew it.”

Sibu­siso spent loads of cash keep­ing up with the flashy life­styles he saw celebs and busi­ness­peo­ple flaunt­ing on so­cial me­dia. “I had more ac­cess to money than be­fore and I started mis­us­ing it. I started mak­ing un­cal­cu­lated de­ci­sions and blew a lot on al­co­hol and go­ing out.”

He didn’t ne­go­ti­ate prices well and one bad busi­ness de­ci­sion saw his com­pany bleed R800 000. Sibu­siso took stock of his life and tried to re­build his brand.

The busi­ness­man from Tsakane re­ceived a big boost when men’s fash­ion re­tailer Markham part­nered with him to sell his socks in their stores. “I signed a five-month trial-run con­tract and they later ex­tended it to a year be­cause of the de­mand, but I was al­ready deep in debt.”

He owes cred­i­tors at least R600 000 and the lu­cra­tive Markham part­ner­ship isn’t enough to keep his busi­ness afloat. Sibu­siso says he’s been hav­ing cash flow prob­lems since Jan­uary last year, when his chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Sandile Mo­lak­eng told him the cof­fers had run dry.

Three months later he sold his 2017 Toy­ota Corolla to keep the busi­ness run­ning. “But even that didn’t help,” Sibu­siso says. “We didn’t have clients and we had to close down the of­fice.”

The de­ci­sion to close his Mabo­neng of­fice, which em­ployed seven peo­ple, dev­as­tated him. “I chose my team based on skill, tal­ent but also on their per­sonal sto­ries. When I let them go it felt like I’d failed them, like I’m not enough as an en­tre­pre­neur.”

His early suc­cess and the Markham deal may not be enough to keep his doors open. “When I say to peo­ple I’m feel­ing pres­sure they ask how be­cause you have a con­tract with Markham.”

His con­tract with Markham is only 25% of what is re­quired to run his busi­ness, Sibu­siso says. “I need more than I have right now.”

He needs at least R5 mil­lion to keep the doors open and things are so bleak

the busi­ness­man even con­sid­ered sell­ing his brand to an over­seas man­u­fac­turer. “But when I thought about those 60 peo­ple who work at the fac­tory in Cape Town that we out­source pro­duc­tion to, I couldn’t do it. They are a re­flec­tion of my grand­mother, who was also a fac­tory worker.” H E’D AL­WAYS been close to his gran, Mimi Mo­lak­eng (70). When busi­ness hit a slump Sibu­siso moved back home with Mimi, who’d raised him in Tsakane. “My grand­mother was my rock be­cause my mom had me when she was very young. My gran was my mother and fa­ther.”

He was shat­tered when Mimi died un­ex­pect­edly last De­cem­ber. “She fell ill, doc­tors didn’t know what was wrong with her. She died within three months.

“I wanted to buy her a house in the north of Joburg but when I lost her my world crashed.”

He was still strug­gling to come to terms with her pass­ing when an­other tragedy struck. Sibu­siso and his friends were in­volved in car crash that nearly took his life a month af­ter his gogo’s pass­ing.

“I was in­jured in my head, neck and back. I re­mem­ber try­ing to breathe and the pain would shoot straight to my back. My doc­tor gave strict or­ders not to move for three months. In just 30 days I lost my grand­mother and al­most my life.”

Sibu­siso suf­fered an­other fi­nan­cial blow be­cause his car wasn’t in­sured and was writ­ten off. The crash, cou­pled with his beloved gran’s death, trig­gered his down­ward spi­ral into de­pres­sion.

He’s been try­ing to pick up the pieces since, but it’s not been easy. “I’m deal­ing with a lot. But so­cial me­dia doesn’t say that. They dic­tate how we should live our lives and no one is say­ing any­thing about the pres­sure men feel.”

Sibu­siso says he’s tired of so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions and has learnt the hard way he doesn’t have to suc­cumb to the pres­sures of so­cial me­dia.

He also wants up­com­ing en­trepreneurs to learn from his mis­takes and he’s now try­ing to get his busi­ness back on track through men­tor­ship with a more ex­pe­ri­enced busi­ness­man.

And thanks to a Good Sa­mar­i­tan who of­fered to help Sibu­siso af­ter see­ing his dis­tress­ing tweets, he’s re­ceiv­ing free treat­ment for his de­pres­sion.

He has a long road to re­cov­ery, but Sibu­siso is grate­ful for the sup­port from his girl­friend, Mbuso Sibiya, and busi­ness part­ners like ac­tor Tu­misho Masha, who pub­licly backed him.

Sibu­siso has faith he’ll find his feet again. “I’ve re­mem­bered the im­por­tance of liv­ing again. I’m more fo­cused – I even have a rooftop gar­den where I plant lemons and toma­toes.”

And that, he hopes, will help him grow from the bot­tom up again.

‘When I let them go it felt like I’d failed them’

Sibu­siso’s sock brand, Skinny Sbu Socks, is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble.

LEFT: Sibu­siso’s girl­friend, Mbuso Sibiya, has been a pil­lar of strength. RIGHT: His sis­ter, Sman­gele, and mom, Nonhlanhla, are sup­port­ive too. BE­LOW: His gran, Mimi Mo­lak­eng.

Ac­tress Shoki Mok­gapa, Sibu­siso’s friend, strug­gled with de­pres­sion and took her own life last month.

De­spite a lu­cra­tive deal with Markham, Skinny Sbu Socks is bat­tling to stay in busi­ness – but Sibu­siso has a plan to get it back on track.

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