Every kid my generation grew up with Bata’s white canvas shoes. I have fond childhood memories of painting my canvas school shoes with shoe white, so fond that the Picasso-in-me started painting EVERY shoe in the house until dad found out about his whitened black leather loafers. After I grew up (I’m still young, ahem by the way), I have rarely worn Bata shoes, perhaps not wanting to be reminded of those teenage bloopers. So when I received an invite to preview their Spring Summer 2013 collection, a wave of nostalgia came over me, and more importantly curiosity about how Bata has transformed over time. As I wrote this piece, I found myself reading up on the brand’s history, and highly intrigued by what I found.
Most people would have thought that Bata is a Malaysian or Singapore brand, fact is, it was started in Czechoslovakia way back in 1894 by siblings Tomas, Anna and Antonin Bata. Tomas Bata’s vision was to “shoe the world“, meaning “everyone to own a pair of shoes“. Bata’s aim was thus to offer quality, fashionable and comfortable footwear at affordable prices, so everyone can afford and enjoy a good pair of shoes. A philanthropist given to the cause of building schools, hospitals, and homes, Tomas Bata provided employment and footwear by establishing factories in developing countries where people walked barefoot. Everywhere the brand went; it created new communities and job opportunities.
Known for taking care of its employees, many Bata operations came with medical, educational and social facilities for its employees. There is an employee profit sharing system, which made everyone in the company an entrepreneur, as well as a Bata School of Work which provides education and training for future teams. This is definitely a company anyone would want to work for, one that cares so much for its employees.
Bata is currently headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland (where a lot of high-end Swiss watches originate) and operates 4 business units worldwide – Bata Europe, Bata Asia Pacific-Africa, Bata Latin America and Bata North America. It has retail presence in over 50 countries, production facilities in 26 countries, employs more than 1 million customers per day, and employs more than 40,000 people. In its history the company has sold 14 billion pairs of shoes.
Bata in Singapore
Bata made its first appearance on 25 August 1931 at Capitol Building in Singapore. Its affordable white canvas shoes went on to become the staple of school-going children and the go-to brand for mothers. The company’s tagline, “First to Bata, then to school” became every household’s motto. Perhaps it was this ability to assimilate so well into the community that many mistook Bata to be a local brand.