In 2017, Siya Kolisi, then a rising star in South African rugby but not yet the national icon who would lead the Springboks to two Rugby World Cup victories, walked into the offices of Freedom of Movement (FOM), a young leather bag startup. During the visit, Kolisi’s attention was captured by a new shoe, the Vellie, which the company was about to launch. The shoe, a modern reinterpretation of a traditional South African design, immediately appealed to Kolisi, leading him to offer to appear in the promotional video.
Aided by Kolisi’s involvement, the shoe quickly became the company’s top seller.
Léan Boezaart, FOM’s co-founder and CEO, says Kolisi’s relationship with the company started as a friendship with the founders and evolved from there. At first, FOM gave Kolisi some free products now and again but he never demanded payment for promoting it. “Initially he did everything because he just liked what we were doing,” Boezaart says, adding that Kolisi was keen to explore how he could work with the company on community upliftment projects.
The following year, the company collaborated with the rugby star on a FOM X Kolisi branded green Vellie. A portion of the revenue from the sales was allocated to constructing a rugby field in Zwide, a disadvantaged community in the Eastern Cape where Kolisi was raised. FOM subsequently expanded the Kolisi line to include bags and apparel. By this point, the company had begun paying Kolisi a royalty for each sale in the Kolisi range. Boezaart notes that while the royalty percentage was small, it started to add up to quite a significant amount.
The partnership eventually culminated in Kolisi acquiring an equity stake of about 4% in the business. “Something that’s super important to him is to feel that he’s part of this thing now. With all his other commercial arrangements, people are paying him money to use him and he didn’t want to feel like that here. He wanted to feel like he’s part of it. And he’s still super involved in all our projects,” explains Boezaart.
Towards the end of last year, after Kolisi lifted the winning trophy of the 2023 World Cup in Paris, he joined the French rugby club Racing 92. Boezaart says this ties into FOM’s European expansion plans. He believes Kolisi will play an important role in growing the brand in Europe.
Read our full interview with Léan Boezaart: Building a South African clothing business, with some help from a rugby captain