Victor Barbosa.
Victor Barbosa.
Image: Supplied

Victor Barbosa is a creative entrepreneur who has surreptitiously and stylishly guided the denizens of the coolest suburbs in SA down the path of high-end coffee, clothes and a cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The high-end European fashion of Scotch & Soda, selvedge denim of Denham and the third-wave caffeination of Naked Coffee have ensured that Barbosa has become the de facto mayor of Melrose Arch to the V&A Waterfront. 

I ventured past the supercars of Daytona in Melrose Arch to meet Barbosa at the bustling yet considered Naked Coffee. He was dressed simply in the heart Converse and a Stone Island knit - two items that are ubiquitous on the streets of Soho or Le Marais, yet limited to globe trotters and foreign students here.

Over coffee we dived into the world of fashion. Barbosa’s passion for the field, as well as his yearning to learn from everyone (even me), was clear from the get-go and the caffeinated conversation stretched long past the interview. His cosmopolitan and globalised ethos, within his outfit, and through his numerous ventures, extends into ensuring that SA is positioned rightfully as a capital of the fashion industry.

With his business partner and childhood friend Shaun Els, the duo started by bringing Superdry into SA , moved to the Amsterdam labels Scotch & Soda and Denham, and now their baby, Naked Coffee. 

Who are you? 

I’m just a passionate entrepreneur that loves business, fashion, food and travel. I try to incorporate those elements into my everyday life and push that into my work life. I think that’s how I started my businesses, by just focusing on the things that I enjoy doing and what drives me, and what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m passionate about building businesses to help people grow. I love developing skills and building teams of people that are as passionate as I am.

How did you start these businesses? 

Long story short; our business journey started around 2002. I used to live in London with a couple of mates - we went during our gap year. We had to grow up very quickly and realised that to be successful, you needed to put in a lot of hard hours and nothing was going to be handed to us. When we returned a few years later, Shaun and I started discussing potential business ventures that we could get involved in.

Victor Barbosa and Shaun Els.
Victor Barbosa and Shaun Els.
Image: Supplied

My background was fashion, I’d worked for the Replay group for many years, and his [Shaun Els’] background was diamonds, we decided to start importing lifestyle products and brands into SA. Initially, we wanted to be a wholesale business that could supply high-end stores throughout SA. Unfortunately, those stores were few and far between, so we decided to take it on ourselves. We opened our first store, a little boutique in the heart of Birdhaven, called Infinite 60, in 2007.

We were very limited with the brands available in SA at the time, there were very few international brands at a high level, so we would fly to London and pack our bags with Zara stock and a whole combination of products. That was where we found our gap and we were well received; so, we jumped off the cliff and built a parachute on the way down. We learnt from mistake to mistake and we kind of just got better as we went along, but I think people could see how passionate we were about the fashion industry.

We began to travel more frequently and started visiting trade shows across Europe — which is where we discovered many of the brands we have worked with over the years including Superdry and Scotch & Soda. 

Tell me more about these businesses? 

We started working with British brand Superdry in 2009 and opened our first stand-alone store in 2011 in Sandton. It was a good brand and it just worked in the South African market. It was an amazing journey and remains a brand close to my heart. We sold the Superdry business, consisting of ten stores at the time, to the Bounty group in 2017.

I think patience is such an important part of growing a business

In 2012 we secured the license for Scotch & Soda, initially through our Infinite 60 stores and later opened stand-alone stores across SA. We now have six stores and a growing online business. The business as a whole is growing nicely. I think it has been well received in SA and with a new flagship store opening in Sandton in August, and another in Cape Town later in the year, I believe we will continue to impress. 

Denim has always been at the forefront of our business, having worked with brands such as Blue Blood, G-Star and Nudie Jeans throughout the years. It is such a big part of South African fashion culture and a category that we are very passionate about. This brings us to the Dutch denim brand — Denham. We have two stores now, one in Hyde Park and one in the V&A Waterfront. It is quite a niche and relatively new, but I think we’re setting a good foundation to build it into a great brand over the next few years. 

Then there is Naked Coffee — what started as a passion project, has taken on a very exciting life of its own. All I can say is ... watch the space!

What is planned for the future? 

Our next project is to take the Naked concept abroad — we’re trying to take it to London. In the immediate future, we are continuing to grow Scotch aggressively with two new stores in the works. We have got a lot of room to grow in this market. We are also planning to launch Denham online in the summer. 

How has being in the fashion industry influenced you? 

That’s where I fell in love with “the detail”, I have always worked with high-end brands and you can just see the attention to detail that goes into every garment. Not even just from the design process, but from the inspiration to the collection — there’s so much within fashion and design, so much focus and energy put into every single collection.

These brands have to push out four collections a year and it’s an impressive process to witness. Every season is an incredible journey, I have to sit back and actually appreciate how much work goes in — from the conceptualisation to the design process, to the manufacturing process, to the selling process, and then finally to get it into stores. That journey has taught me a lot about business, and it’s helped us to launch a brand like Naked, it had a huge impact on the way that we approach the naked coffee business.

We are very passionate about the product that we put out and that ties back to clothing; it’s the product and the lifestyle element. We just emphasise attention to every little detail. 

What advice would you give? 

When you are getting into business, when you are starting out — you’re always looking for short-term gratification or quick rewards. I think patience is such an important part of growing a business, in hindsight, I don’t think we should’ve sold the Superdry business as early as we did, it was a good deal for us, but I think there was still a lot more potential to grow. I think, for any young entrepreneur, it is important to just enjoy the journey, don’t worry so much about the destination, rather just enjoy the day-to-day grind because that’s what it’s actually about. 

There are many definitions of success, it’s quite subjective I suppose. I think passion shines through in everything. We are separated from our competitors through our attention to detail, I’m very detail orientated and focused and we put it all out there, we really give a hundred percent of ourselves.  

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