My story | 'I lost everything in lockdown and it motivated me to open a socks business'

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Zi Gallo socks is a South African brand founded by Thando Imam Stephans
Zi Gallo socks is a South African brand founded by Thando Imam Stephans
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Some people found their inner chef during lockdown. Some could give the contestants of the bake off shows a run for their money. 

Others discovered their long-lost six packs in the various stages of lockdown. 

And others found an entrepreneurial spirit, especially those who found themselves without a job as most places were closed. 

Eastern Cape born Thando Imam Stephans is one of those who found a passion in lockdown. It wasn't food, or fitness but he developed an interest in something that people wear everyday but might not take much notice off socks. 

He created the cultural inspired sock brand Zii Gallo (slang for there’s many) and it started operating in October 2020.

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During level 5 lockdown in 2020, Thando lost everything. He worked as a radio host and also had a catering company before the lockdown. The company completely failed and he had to start over. 

“I had nothing but an idea”, he tells Drum.

“After I lost everything during level 5 lockdown, I was sleeping in friends’ couches, I had an idea to create cultural inspired socks. I have always liked colourful socks, but I realised that these socks are tell a European story, so I also wanted to tell our African stories to the world through socks.”

Inspired by the African culture, Thando believes now is the time to preserve the African culture and identity and he is doing that through socks.

“I am a proud Xhosa man, I like my culture, I like our South African cultural patterns and the stories behind them. I also like colours, hence I had to fuse the two to create something authentic, beautiful and sell it to the world.” 

He designs the socks himself and works with a manufacture to make them. 

His dream for the brand is to see Zii Gallo being sold all over the world and to have South African celebrities, embrace his brand. But for now, he's taking it one sale at a time.  

“If Swedish brand such as ‘Happy Socks' can open stores in South Africa, nothing is stopping me from opening a store in Times Square New York” he tells us.

He didn't have a lot of capital when he started off, so Thando sold his socks in the lively streets of Maboneng.

"Starting the brand during lockdown was not easy, it was difficult to deliver on time to our customers, I did not have a marketing budget so I decided to start selling in the streets of Maboneng."

They never lack for customers in the Maboneng District and he's adamant that no lack of capital will stand in the way of him growing his brand. 

"They do say start with what you have," he says.  

“My vision is telling our African stories to the world, donate basic food to students while creating sustainable jobs using something as small as socks.”

He knows what it's like having nothing. So once he started making a bit of money, Thando became part of an NGO – Sovuka Sikhanye which is dedicated in donating basics to students. They want to motivate them to focus on their future and providing the basics helps them do that. 

Thando wants to use money he makes from his socks to contribute to that goal as well.

“I would like to sell 10 000 pairs of socks so that we are able to donate basic needs and food to students.”

He would also like to make sure various cultures are represented in his socks one day. He's not just stopping at socks, he says with pride. Thando has created a Zii Gallo washing powder and a socks softener.

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