Mother wore a pair of beautiful shoes like this. I am glad I can have it down loaded to share with you. She was a very tall lady by Foochow standard and had a very purposeful walk. She wore a similar pair of white leather shoes with grace and dignity. And I was so proud of her, as she walked down the Blacksmith Road with my siblings in tow. I could see the lovely whiteness of the shoes coming towards me. In my child's mind,no one else could wear shoes like she . I was used to my beautiful aunts who wore lovely shoes, especially those who had just come back from Singapore. My aunt Pearl also wore very good shoes.
Watching my mother walk with my siblings was something very happy for me. And today, this memory is one of those happy Sibu memories that I have. In a way, I remember her as a Chinese lady wearing western clothes, and a lovely pair of shoes, thus making her so "western" and educated. We were delighted by her grace and stature. Awesome. We were so proud of her, our hearts would burst.
Bata Shoes were sold in the outlet owned by Lau Kiing Chong, situated along Central Road, in the building next to Hock Hua Bank. He was always very polite to my whole family whenever we went to buy shoes.
The company was founded in 1894 in Zlín (then Austro-Hungarian Empire, today the Czech Republic) by Tomáš Baťa (pron. toh-mahsh bah-tyah) whose family had been cobblers for generations. A large order from the army, military shoes and rising demand for them, during World War I started rapid growth and small manufacture turned into modern industrial concern, one of the first mass producers of shoes.
Tomáš Baťa was recognised for his social conscience, establishing housing, cinemas and advancement programmes for his employees. The phrase "work collectively, live individually" is one of his sayings. Baťa recognised the potential of large-scale production, and was often called the "Henry Ford of Eastern Europe". He saw technology as a means of progress, and wanted to make the shoes as cheaply as possible so that the greatest number of people could access them.
In 1932 Tomáš died in a plane crash at the Zlín airport (attempting to take-off under bad weather conditions) and his half-brother Jan Antonín Baťa became head of the company.
At the time of Tomáš' death, the Baťa company employed 16,560 people, maintained 1,645 shops and 25 enterprises. Most of what Tomáš had build was centralized in Bohemia-Moravia (15,770 employees, 1,500 shops, 25 enterprises) and Slovakia ( 250 employees and 2 enterprises). The total international contribution to the Baťa organization at the time of Tomas' death consisted of 20 international enterprises, 132 shops, and 790 employees.
Under Jan Antonín Baťa the company grew quickly, continued its expansion throughout Europe, North America, Asia, and North Africa. Zlín accommodated the largest part of the company, with manufacturing and headquarters.
Apart from shoes, Baťa also diversified into other areas (tyres, toys, plastic fibres, etc.).
The company which established itself in India in 1931 started manufacturing shoes there, in Batanagar, in 1936.
In 1922, the first Bata shop abroad opened in the Netherlands, in 1933, construction began on the Bata shoe factory in Best, in the Dutch province of Brabant, at the intersection of the railway tracks leading to Eindhoven and the Wilhelmina Canal located nearby. There was an abundance of inexpensive and hard-working labourers in the Brabant countryside.
The British "Bata-villes" in East Tilbury and Maryport inspired the documentary "Bata-ville: We Are Not Afraid Of The Future".
During World War II
After Germany occupied the rest of pre-war Czechoslovakia (15 March 1939) Jan Antonín Baťa, who left the country with his family after a brief time in jail after the Nazi occupation, tried to save as much as possible, subduing to the plans of Germans as well as supporting financially the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile led by Edvard Beneš.
An episode: A Baťa-owned Lockheed plane was flown out of Czechoslovakia 2 days before the Nazi occupation. The plane made it to Britain where it was dismantled and shipped to Canada.
Foreign factories were separated from mother company and ownership of plants in Czech lands was transferred to one member of the family.
Jan Antonín Baťa stayed in the Americas from 1939-1940, but as America entered the war, he felt it would be safer for his co-workers and their families back in occupied Czechoslovakia if he left the United States.
At the moment he left the protection of the United States, the British placed him on the "black list." It is believed that the communist influence on the Beneš' exile government was behind this. The official reason for this was Mr. Baťa's inability to pay a demand by the British government amounting to 250,000 pounds sterling (a huge sum of money at the time). The United Kingdom insisted on the huge bail due to the fact that Mr. Baťa was the owner of largest industrial concern in occupied Czechoslovakia, located in enemy territory and employing more than 40,000 Czechs and Slovaks.
During the war, Jan Baťa helped hundreds of Jewish families to escape from Czechoslovakia, sending them all over the world throughout the Baťa organization and beyond the Nazi's reach. During the war, among other patriotic deeds, Jan Baťa devised a plan to save more than 100,000 of his countrymen from Nazi concentration camps by setting up plans for a Czech/Slovak infrastructure buildout plan for a highway and aqueduct system. This frustrated the Nazi decrees that took unemployed Czechs and Slovaks to concentration camps in Germany and elsewhere. The road and aqueduct system envisioned by Mr. Baťa was based on his book entitled, "Building a nation of 40,000,000" (circa 1938).
During the war Jan Baťa was also the largest contributor to the Czech cause prior to Munich and after. Even though he disagreed with the pro-soviet politics of Edvard Beneš and Jan Masaryk, he gave monetary support to them during the war. More than 250 pilots were trained by Jan Baťa's organization in preparation for the German invasion, many of whom served as pilots or airmen in the RAF.
After the war
After the war Jan Antonín Baťa attempted (unsuccessfully) to purge his name of the accusations against him.
Members of the family started to sue one another over ownership of the company; mutual hatred among branches of the family lasted for decades.
In 1945 the company was nationalised as a part of large scale nationalisation program in Czechoslovakia.
In spite of incredible odds and a political climate that had put the machinery in motion to nationalize all large businesses, Jan Baťa fought against the 64 crimes that the communists had accused him of. And in fact, the jury at the time, composed mostly of socialists and communists found Jan A. Baťa innocent of all 64 charges. The verdict enraged the communist judge, who immediately added two new charges, declared Jan Baťa guilty, then used the guilty finding as a reason to confiscate all Baťa properties in Czechoslovakia and sentenced Mr. Baťa to 15 years of hard labor in absentia.
After the communist party took all power (1948) it tried to suppress all memory of Tomáš and Jan A. Baťa. Baťas were portrayed as ruthless capitalists, exploiting workers in pursuit of higher profit (see Svatopluk Turek). The company was renamed to Svit and Zlín to Gottwaldov (after the leader of communist party). The Svit factory concentrated on the domestic market. During the following decades its ability to compete and its technological infrastructure declined due to under-investment and weak management.
After the global economic changes in 1990s the company closed almost all its manufacturing factories in developed countries (USA, France, United Kingdom) this caused the elimination of thousands of jobs and it stayed only in retail business there. In developing countries still run manufacturing, for example in Zimbabwe's third city of Gweru, it is the biggest shoe manufacturers in Southern Africa outside of South Africa.
The company is currently headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, with 4 business units:
Bata Europe, Lausanne
Bata Asia Pacific-Africa, Singapore
Bata Latin America, Mexico City
Bata North America, Toronto
Current shoe brands are:
Bata (Baťa in former Czechoslovakia)
Bata Premium (handcrafted dress shoes)
Bata Industrial (safety footwear)
Power (sports shoes and boots)
Marie Claire (women's)
According to Bata, in 2007 the company serves 1 million customers per day, employs over 40,000 people, operates 4,600 retail stores, manages a retail presence in over 50 countries and runs 40 production facilities across 26 countries [low cost labor].
Czechoslovakia after 1989
After the "Velvet Revolution" in November 1989, Thomas J. Baťa arrived as soon as December 1989. He was warmly welcomed by the population remembering his father and uncle.
The Czechoslovak government offered him investments into the ailing Svit. Since companies "nationalised" before 1948 were not returned to original owners, the state went on to own Svit and "privatized" it during voucher privatization. Its low ability to compete in the free market led to decline and in 2000 Svit went bankrupt.
Baťa a.s.Nowadays, Baťa a.s. (the official name of the Czech subsidiary) is mainly a trading business. Apart from shoe stores, it also runs a small production facility in Dolní Němčí, a shoe museum in Zlín and Baťa Foundation (Nadace Tomáše Bati), which supports cultural and educational projects. The main street in Zlín and its university are both named after Tomáš Baťa.
From admiring my mother's shoes and wearing them in the house like all kids love to do, playing adults, I have move on to wearing my own shoes of different quality and different colours.