Richard Holmes tries on a very special pair of South Africa’s national footwear that is helping to level the playing fields for under-privileged young rugby players.
Few people give much thought to their humble pair of vellies, but for Roal Boezaart they have the power to change the world.
Roal was still a student at the University of Stellenbosch when he co-founded lifestyle brand Freedom of Movement (FOM) with his brother Lean. Although his degree was in engineering, he’s always had “a passion for design and clothing,” he says. “The dream was to establish a proudly South African niche brand.”
That dream started small, with FOM producing branded apparel for university residences and local schools, but when the brand moved into leather goods it took on a life of its own.
Employing an expert leather worker from Port Elizabeth and moving into a small production space provided by the university beneath the Admin A building, the brothers began to create the business. Their first order? A leather satchel for alumni attending the 110-year reunion of Wilgenhof Mans-koshuis. It was a hit and more orders flowed.
Overcoming manufacturing and scaling issues along the way, in mid-2013 FOM moved into a larger production space and began expanding its range. Fast-forward to 2020 and the brand has an extensive product line ranging from watches to sunglasses and satchels. They’re sold online and in 10 retail stores nationwide.
The rugby field at the Mbekweni Youth Centre in Paarl was levelled
and returfed with the proceeds from sales of the FOM x Kolisi vellies.
This was their first project and was nearing completion at the time of writing.
FOM has evolved into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand but, says Roal, they have seen “massive success” with their veldskoens. While some products are made abroad to ensure quality – watches in Switzerland, sunglasses in Italy – the vellies are proudly manufactured in Cape Town.
With the launch of the FOM x Kolisi range, Roal and his team have also turned the humble vellie into a vehicle for social change. “Siya and I were introduced through [Springbok prop] Frans Malherbe and the three of us became good friends,” he explains. “He loved the brand and the products. One day he came into my office and, seeing the Field Green vellies we had been working on, he suggested we do something together.”
That “something” was the start of the FOM x Kolisi collaboration. At its simplest, it’s a striking pair of handmade vellies, their green colour reminiscent of the fields that made Siya a national hero. More importantly, it’s the colour of the rugby fields being created for under-privileged youngsters in the Cape Winelands.
Together with funding from the Alive Foundation and Stellenbosch-based Millennium Trust, a portion of the proceeds from each pair of FOM x Kolisi vellies sold goes to their first project, the levelling and returfing of the rugby field at the Mbekweni Youth Centre in Paarl.
“This is our first project and it’s nearly complete,” says Roal. “Now we’re already talking about the next one, which will be in the township of Zwide in Port Elizabeth, Siya’s hometown.”
That’s only the beginning, with the goal to build 100 rugby fields across South Africa. Vellies; they’ll take you places.
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Roal Boezaart (on the left), with his brother Marcel,
who is also involved in the business,
deep in conversation with Siya Kolisi.