DURBAN – Nozipho Zulu, is the creator of ZuluGal Retro a company that makes up-cycled handbags and fashion accessories.
Low on cash, a heavily pregnant Kendra Scott knew she had to come up with a way of making more money.
On bed rest at home in Austin, Texas, awaiting the birth of her first child, she started designing jewellery in her and her first husband’s spare bedroom.
This was back in 2002, when the then 28-year-old Ms Scott had just $500 (£370) of savings with which to try to get her business up and running.
After her son was born, she decided that they would go out together to try to sell the earrings and other items.
“Once I had created my first collection, I strapped my infant son in a baby carrier and placed my jewellery samples in a tea box,” says Ms Scott, now 44.
“Then we went door-to-door to Austin boutiques, selling my pieces. I sold out in the first day. From there, I had a business.”
Today Ms Scott’s eponymous company Kendra Scott is valued at more than $1bn, and her personal wealth is estimated at $500m.
In Forbes magazine’s 2017 list of the richest self-made women in the US, she was in 36th place, above the likes of singers Taylor Swift and Beyonce.
Born and raised in the midwestern US state of Wisconsin, Ms Scott went to university in Texas, but a year later dropped out, and ended up living in Austin, Texas’ capital city.
She then set up and ran a business for two years, making comfortable hats for women going through chemotherapy. The inspiration came from her late stepfather’s battle with cancer, and she donated a portion of the profits to local hospitals.
The idea for the jewellery start-up came after she said she realised there was a large gap in the market – most jewellery was either very expensive or really cheap, with little in the middle.
So her plan was to try to produce quality gemstone pieces that she – and other women – would like to wear, at a more affordable price.
“Every woman, no matter where she stands economically, wants to feel confident and beautiful,” she says.
Initially just selling wholesale – supplying other shops rather than opening any outlets of her own – Kendra Scott grew slowly but steadily.
Ms Scott says she was bolstered by hiring good people, who helped her to grow the Austin-based business despite some challenges in her personal life – her first marriage ended following the birth of her second child.
“I focused on building a team of talented people to help me grow the business, and seven of my original employees – all women – are still with me today,” she says.
It was in 2010 that the company made the switch to retail, opening its first branch in Austin. Ms Scott says it was a pivotal moment for the business, and she was determined that her jewellery stores would be different from the norm.
“Jewellery stores are known for being intimidating and formal, with velvet ropes and closed cases,” Ms Scott says. “I wanted to create an experience that was warm, interactive, and most of all fun.”
As a result, customers at Kendra Scott stores are encouraged to pick up and try on the jewellery. Shoppers can also design their own pieces in-store, by mixing and matching different gem stones with different earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings.
Today the business has 80 retail stores across the US, and a website that ships globally. In addition, its jewellery is stocked overseas by the likes of Selfridges in London.
The company has about 2,000 workers, 96% of whom are women. And while it is now backed by investment companies, Ms Scott remains the majority owner.
“Kendra is like a unicorn in our industry,” says Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council, a trade body that represents fashion accessory brands. “She defies trends. If you look at it, you are left thinking why is this brand on fire when others are struggling?”
Ms Giberson says that a key reason behind Kendra’s success is that the designer is “the real deal” – she was a young mother who worked very hard to get where she is.
“On top of all that, she is really nice, and that trickles down in the company, into the stories that foster a sense of community which customers enjoy,” says Ms Giberson. “It’s the shadow of the leader.”
In terms of her actual jewellery, Ms Scott has succeeded in offering customers exactly what they want, and at the right price, says Ken Downing, fashion director at department store group Neiman Marcus.
“What Kendra has done well is offer jewellery with a personal sense, and a strong look, at a price the customer can feel good about,” he says.
Ms Giberson adds that customers are also impressed by all the charity work done by the company.
Last year the company donated $5m in cash, and thousands of pieces of jewellery, to a number of charities, primarily for women and children.
One example of the company’s philanthropy is its Kendra Cares Program, whereby patients in children’s hospitals can make Kendra Scott jewellery – for free – for themselves, or a parent or other care giver.
Kendra Scott staff also committed more than 2,000 hours of volunteer work, and its stores across the US hosted more than 10,000 fundraising events.
Ms Scott says that the company is committed to continue to do all this charity work because she established the business on three core pillars – “family, fashion and philanthropy”, which “guide everything we do”.
To meet the “family” pillar the company offers generous parental leave for both full and part-time employees, adoption and infertility financial assistance, and a fund that supports families in times of crisis. Staff can also take babies and small children to work with them.
“While jewellery and fashion may seem like a superficial industry, I see it much more importantly as an opportunity to do good in our communities,” says Ms Scott, who is married with three children.
Content in this guide
- Create a blueprint for your business
- Name your clothing line and company
- Register the business
- Basic design skills
- Production Plan
- Get the pricing right
- How to find a clothing manufacturer
- Networking is a valuable tool
- Market your line
- Online marketing
- Workshops and training
The South African fashion industry has the talent to develop original products with inspirational style and creative detail to compete very well with popular international brands. However, designers too often fail to deliver through lack of basic planning and business acumen,” says Amanda du Plessis.
Du Plessis launched the retail consultancy Evolution 4 years ago to help top South African brands to realise their potential. A doyenne in the industry, she started her career as a buyer at Truworths, developing in-house ladies wear and accessories ranges.
She joined Stuttafords as a brand manager where she developed three private label ranges – Define, Excursion and Oaktree – and managed six local and international brands. She left Stuttafords to head up retail development at Polo before starting her own consultancy.
Create a blueprint for your business
There are a number of business matters that must be in place before you can start a clothing line.
- No matter what kind of business you start, you must have a business plan.
- In the plan, you must consider all the costs and include your goals. Once you have done this, everything else will fall into place.
- Start small. Many business ventures begin small; then grow with time, lots of hard work and patience.
Name your clothing line and company
Think of a creative and catchy name that represents you and the product. Once you have worked out a name, you must protect your label by registering the name.
Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) in Pretoria is responsible for the registration of companies, trademarks and patents. Contact them to register your brand name and logo. Protect the brand name under trademark law as well, but don’t forget to do a trademark search before you register it.
Register the business
Set up a business entity by registering the business as a Close Corporation or a Private Company and get all of the necessary licenses and tax registrations that are required by the South African Revenue Services (SARS).
Basic design skills
The Design Process
Before you start a clothing line, you need to understand the design process as a whole. Research current trends to predict what styles, colours, and fabrics will be popular
- Conceptualise an idea
- Sketch preliminary designs
- Select fabrics
“To have a successful business, you need to have items that are more accessible to a greater audience both price and style-wise. This does not mean that you need to create pieces for the mass market. Instead you need to consider a range of pieces and prices within your collections,” explains du Plessis.
Formulate your production plan — that’s going to do what, how much it is going to cost, what needs to be produced. You’ll need to create a sample, or have a sample created for you.
You can then use this sample to get orders. Take the sample to fashion shows, trade shows, retailers, craft shows, etc.
Providing that you have your designs and range set out on paper, that patterns have been cut and fabrics sourced, the next step is to manufacture a range of professional samples.
“In South Africa it is difficult to find a reliable CTM (Clothing and Textile Manufacturer) willing to make a small range. You could employ seamstresses to make the clothing on your premises until you can no longer cope with demand, or better still create a group of seamstresses that work for a few designers and pay them for finished product instead of paying a daily rate.”
“This way you will know your actual cost and your labour component will be more productive. Once your units gets closer to 100/200 units you could approach a CTM to manufacture the line,” advises du Plessis. When dealing with a clothing manufacturer, prepare a list to find one that is the right fit. Find out the following:
- How much will it cost to get what I need?
- What are the turnaround times?
- Do you provide samples before finalising production?
- How soon will I receive the sample?
The textiles, clothing and footwear industry in South Africa is well established, but has been under siege for some years due to the negative impact of cheap imports. The effect of cheap exports is exacerbated by the reduction of import protection; this stems the flow of illegal imports and the effect of the discontinuation of export incentives.
“There are very few mills left in South Africa that produce apparel fabrics, and most of the fabrics are imported thru wholesalers therefore designers will not always have exclusivity on designs, this however creates an opportunity for designers to create their own look by adding value to basic cloths by printing, embroidery or draping” says du Plessis.
Get the pricing right
Consider everything that goes into making your clothes when deciding on pricing.
- Fashion material costs (material, cotton, buttons, zips, etc).
- Salaries for you and any employees.
- Advertising and marketing costs.
- Manufacturing costs.
- Other expenses, like utilities, supplies and equipment.
Make sure that your target market can afford your clothing range.
How to find a clothing manufacturer
This requires lots of legwork. Start by browsing through the internet. There is a global clothing manufacturer register on clothingregister.com that lists manufactures in South African and around the world.
“Word of mouth is a good way to find a good small manufacturer,” recommends du Plessis. Talk to other designers at fashion shows and industry events and find out who they recommend. It is a good idea when your units become bigger to include a “penalty clause” so that you are protected in the event of a late delivery by the manufacturer. , says du Plessis.
Now you are ready to launch the range
Once the samples are made, you need to contact buyers at stores where you believe your target market would shop. Not only do you show them samples, but you should also show them the different styles, colours and fabric swatches. If they decide to buy, request a written order including the delivery date and payment terms.
Networking is a valuable tool
Never hesitate to network. You never know who you could be discussing your business venture with. It could be a prospective client or even a possible partner.
Market your line
Spread the word by wearing your own designs and telling anyone who asks you that you made it.
- Make use of free social networks such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to raise your clothing line’s visibility.
- Write press releases and distribute them to newspapers and fashion magazines.
- You could open your own boutique, but you would have to prove through your business plan that the shop will be profitable. It’s a risky route
- Sell your line to a retailer; try to set up a plan whereby you sell your clothes through other clothing retailers.
- You can also take your samples to craft fairs, flea markets, fashion shows and trade shows.
Online sales can be a great addition to your sales plan. Either you can use your own professional website, or you can use online marketplaces such as FashionCircus.net, or LA Showroom on http://www.lashowroom.com/ and for news, events and forums dealing with the South African fashion industry go to ifashion.
Workshops and training
“One of the opportunities for the South African design schools is to address the business side of design and to equip the designers with the correct tools.” says du Plessis.
Many academic intuitions offer Fashion Design courses including Lisof (London International School of Fashion), The University of Pretoria and the Design School of South Africa. Evolution runs regular workshops to help and guide the industry in South Africa. Watch evolution projects for workshop announcements.
Source: Entrepreneur Magazine
Mwiihangele comes from a long line of entrepreneurs.
But her journey into entrepreneurship wasn’t that easy. She says she suffered from shyness.
“I used to have a speech problem of stuttering. Kids and cousins used to tease me all the time and pretty much all the way to high school,” she says.
Tired of being the laughing stock, she taught herself how to stop stuttering.
It paid off. In 2000, by the age of 11, she won the gold medal at the Namibian Expo of Young Scientists competition for developing a high-performance matte lipstick. she later won bronze in South Africa against the whole continent.
“That’s how my passion for cosmetic science was birthed. I don’t think I would’ve discovered my passion if I had not entered that competition,” says Mwiihangele.
During her final year at university, studying analytical chemistry at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, she had to complete a 12-month in-service training at an analytical lab. She chose to be strategically different and complete her training at a cosmetic manufacturing company.
Although her salary was small, she managed to save and return home to Namibia to set up a cosmetic manufacturing company.
With R20,000 ($1,500) in hand she founded Kiyomisandz, a cosmetic and toiletry manufacturing company based in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. The company manufactures its own products and offers contract manufacturing services to people who want to make their own.
The company won the 2015 National Commission on Research, Science & Technology innovation grant and the 2016 Development Bank of Namibia innovation award.
“The ability to create something valuable, new and different out of simple ingredients or natural resources inspires me to continuously experiment and develop new products.”
Source: Forbes Africa
Luxury labels from the African continent are expanding rapidly and some hope they will become the next generation of global household names.
The global luxury goods industry is worth more than $1.5tr (£1tr), according to research by global business consulting firm, Bain & Company. This market is expected to grow by up to 5% annually over the next three years.
The new wave of brands targeted at big spenders could mean brands from Africa might start competing with some of the best known labels in the world.
That said, a look at the top luxury goods companies shows European countries and the United States still dominate the industry. The question is, how soon until we start seeing African brands take a place alongside the leading luxury powerhouses?
Vania Leles is one of many African-owned luxury firms integrating the continent into their brand ethos.
Born and raised in Guinea-Bissau, the gemmologist set up her London-based jewellery shop called Vanleles Diamonds in 2011. Seven years on, the shop is now based in Mayfair, placed between French brands Cartier and Chanel.
She said that Africa was a source of inspiration for her, particularly childhood memories of trips around the continent – she travelled to around 15 countries between the ages of 15 and 18.
Most of the gemstones used in the jewellery shop are from ethical sources across Africa, she said.
“Probably 80-90% [of gems and diamonds] come from Africa, but you don’t see brands saying: ‘These diamonds are from Botswana.’ I think it’s about time that we champion our own natural resources.”
Ms Leles explains that the popularity of Colombian emeralds and Burmese rubies is not rooted in their real value, but instead it is to do with branding and marketing.
“Money being thrown into it, auction houses buying into it, big brands advocating it. When we talk about how popular the Colombian emeralds are, there’s been a great investment in marketing.
“But in terms of beauty and value, Zambian emeralds are just as beautiful and are just as valuable. It’s just a matter of educating the general consumer.”
Ms Leles consciously places the brand’s heritage at the heart of its identity, heavily marketing the origins of her gems in contrast to other jewellers.
Black beauty products for Hong Kong
High-end department shop Harrods is host to Epara Skincare, a beauty product that blends African botanical ingredients such as argan oil, shea butter and liquorice root extract. Each pot comes with a price tag of more than $100.
Epara’s founder, Ozohu Adoh, created the brand specifically to address the beauty concerns of women of colour, but she has noticed the product’s appeal has extended beyond her target market.
“When I did my original business model, I thought our biggest market would be London and then some select countries in Africa. So I was very surprised when I was approached by an agent in Hong Kong saying they would like to sell the brand. That’s been one of our biggest orders to date.”
Ms Adoh sees parallels between her brand and Asian beauty labels that have crossed over to appeal to women of all heritages.
“We have [seen] Korean beauty and Japanese beauty products, which were created for Korean and Japanese women, but have become mainstream and everyone is buying into it.”
More and more companies like Vanleles and Epara are entering the global market and doing fairly well.
Heritage brands like Chanel and Hermès were built over centuries and have had time to develop and be recognised globally.
People like branding consultant Uche Pezard think technology can help to fuel a shift in the luxury market to let newcomers leave their mark.
Ms Pezard, who is the founder of Luxury Connect Africa, says she has noticed a growing demand for luxury products from Africa.
According to her, the interest in these products comes from consumers around the world and not just from those living in African or members of the African diaspora.
She says: “We’re currently in the age of content and consumers consume content before they consume products. People use social media, digital media and the ease of sharing information.
“Consumers are generally aware of brands’ back stories, heritage stories, authentic stories and people buy into that first before they buy into the products.”
When speaking about her new business platform, Luxury Connect Africa, she explains the aim is to help African companies make the transition into much bigger global businesses.
She represents several clothing fashion labels including South Africa’s Maxhosa By Laduma, Nigeria’s Tiffany Amber and plans to nurture the new wave of heritage luxury brands.
In Ms Pezard’s opinion, until now many luxury firms from Africa have not been prepared to compete, lacking strong business mechanisms behind them. However, this is gradually changing.
“African creators, designers, entrepreneurs and innovators are beginning to take advantage of the new access to international markets whether through e-commerce or social shopping or international travel. They’re beginning to gain a real footprint in the international market space.”
Natalie Mills was struggling financially when she embarked on her first entrepreneurship endeavour. Read more
Young fashion designer Rich Mnisi has ventured into furniture design, debuting specially commissioned pieces at Southern Guild’s Extra Ordinary group exhibition at its gallery in Cape Town’s Silo District.
Rich Mnisi makes his furniture design debut at Southern Guild gallery
Mnisi’s furniture debut, consisting of a chaise and a stool, follows his latest fashion collection – titled Nwa-Mulamula, after his late great-grandmother – which showcased in Lagos last October. The extended collection stands as a “physical representation of Nwa-Mulamula as the ever-present guardian, whose teachings live on through storytelling generation after generation”.
“For me, the chaise, which takes the shape of Nwa-Mulamula’s (The Guardian) body in the form of a navy leather couch, represents her presence and long-lasting teachings, and the stool, in the shape of an eye with gold puddles, represents her tears, which were never in vain. Without her pain and her experiences I wouldn’t exist. I couldn’t be the person I am today,” explains Mnisi.
The commissioned items will form part of a group show of multidisciplinary artists, all in celebration of Southern Guild’s decade-long journey in collectable design in South Africa, and includes ceramic artists Zizipho Poswa and Madoda Fani, sculptors Daniella Mooney and Stanislaw Trzebinski, and newcomers such as 3D illustrator Ferdi B. Dick.
“The whole concept was to encourage the designers to work outside their comfort zone, providing mentorship and guidance along the way. They’re accomplished designers already – so we wanted them to think differently about themselves and their work,” says Julian McGowan, co-founder of The Guild Group.
The result for each designer is a piece that springboards a new body of work.
“I’m very excited about the exhibition, and the opportunity to have had this platform which enabled me to be free, and expand my vision into a whole new and different reality,” concludes Mnisi.
The exhibition will run until 16 April 2018 after which some of the pieces will travel to be showcased internationally.