PIETERMARITZBURG (SA) – Bresan Footwear cc turns 25 this year, and it’s already been six years since John and Alistair Watt moved the company from Greytown to Pietermaritzburg.
Bresan was founded in 1986 in Greytown by John and Ivan de Beer to stitch uppers for Cheval Shoes and Rockshoes. In 1996, when Bata closed its Keates Drift factory, Bresan employed a large number of its skilled staff and added Bata to its customer list, making about 750 pairs of moccasin uppers a day.
John had worked for Bata and ran the Keates Drift factory for six years before starting Bresan.
Bresan employed former Bata staff and used the same systems. “ Keates Drift had shown how keen rural women were to work, and how productive they could be when given targets,” John said. “ They have been the backbone of this business.”
Ivan sold out in 1990 and John’s son, Alistair, joined in 1995 after earning a diploma in clothing production.
As Bata’s business moved away from hand-stitched Idlers moccasins, Bresan made uppers for a number of other manufacturers.
In 1997, it added Beier Safety Footwear to its list of customers, starting with 300 pairs/day.
That has grown to around 1,200 pairs/day of increasingly complex uppers as the safety footwear industry has had to become more stylish, with higher work content and combinations of materials, while still fulfilling its basic function.
To meet Beier’s standards, Bresan invests heavily in technology, and has recently installed its fourth computerised stitching machine.
“ Beier is competing against the world, and as one of their suppliers , we need to keep up with the latest production methods,” Alistair said.
Bresan’s CMT plant currently works for Beier only.
CMT remains by far the major part of the business, but Bresan has experimented with making complete footwear over the years, and last year it was making about 50 pairs/day of mostly men’s formal and casual footwear. This year, it has set itself a target of 300 pairs/day, “and we’re getting there”, Alistair said.
When Bresan moved from Greytown to Pietermaritzburg it was partly to reduce transport costs and time. The other major reason was the belief that it would be able to tap into a source of trained and skilful workers.
“ That part didn’t work out quite as we’d hoped,” he said. “ Most of our Greytown staff – over 60 of them – moved with the business, and they remain the majority of the just over 100-strong workforce.
“ But we found that recruiting skilled staff in Maritzbutg wasn’t easy. Most people who didn’t have jobs didn’t have them for a reason.”
Bresan set up its own training school – “not accredited with the SETA, just to train for our own closing needs” – and instead of trying to hire competent machinists, it now prefers to bring in people as tablehands and then select those who show aptitude for training. After a six-week course, workers graduate to “the simple jobs” in production.
Bresan will start a training course for clickers shortly.
Article Originally Published in S&V Volume 74 No 5 2011