| Tokelo Motsepe
A. I originally wanted to get into interior design, I don’t know why, but throughout high school I thought that’s what I was going to do; I just always knew I would do something in the design world. After school I did a course called textile design at school, where we did a lot of sewing and making crazy things like jackets out of ties and I found I really enjoyed that aspect of making things and creating something from nothing.
It was a very slow start, as I didn’t start with much capital at all. I did baby-sitting and odd jobs in-between and started by taking things to this tailor where this lady was working and she started sewing things a couple of times for me and that progressed to her coming to my parents’ house a few times a week, then every day, and then another lady joined us; and that’s how it happened. In April we celebrated our 8th birthday, but for about a year before that, I was trying to get it started and it just wasn’t happening as a full-time thing, so the April date was more what we settled on as a start date.
Q. What would you say has been your greatest achievement since launching the brand?
A. Opening the store. It’s something I had always wanted to do since starting the brand and at times I didn’t think we would get there; or rather let me say I didn’t know when we would get there, not if. It’s a large undertaking and to maintain customers, market the store and grow a presence in your city is quite a big job, and it’s a separate job to designing and making clothing. It’s been really fun and all that it’s opened me up to has been really great, for me personally being able to meet with so many different people in my city and being opened to different communities. For some reason, I feel very sentimental about having a little part of Cape Town, where we can hopefully add something positive to the city.
Q. What was most challenging in starting up the brand? And how did you overcome that?
A. Probably a combination between a lack of knowledge around finances and cash flow; and just backing yourself and needing to do what you do. I found it very difficult to be super confident in what I was doing and then go out and push it at the same time. I guess you just overcome that in time, like I mentioned earlier with the name thing, when you finally look at it as a business and you analyse it critically and aren’t as emotionally connected to it. It becomes less about what people think of you or what you think of people and more about this being your product and having to make it work. Also, having employees makes it more serious, with the responsibility of supporting them and you just make sure that the business keeps progressing. And the cash flow and finance thing I’m still learning, I just keep learning and have gotten better and strong with it with each year.
Q. Which African brand(s) would you want to collaborate with in future?
A. There are a lot that come to mind, but I feel like there are so many in Johannesburg that I have yet to discover, having seen bits and pieces online. I feel like there’s a lot happening up in Joburg, which is exciting for me and I am actually looking at going up there sometime this year. Though I must admit, it’s been difficult to get to know more about the brands I come across, which is why platforms like yours are exciting to hear about, it might help me with that little problem. There are so many different ways one can collaborate and having other brands that complement our range sold in our store, alongside it has been really great to watch, so it would be nice to discover more brands we could collaborate with in that sense.
Q. Where would you like to see your brand in 5 or 10 years?
A. Realistically, probably not that far from where it is now. A Joburg branch might be a possibility, but I don’t have the desire to own a whole bunch of stores. I really just want to do what we do and do it properly. We would like to diversify our offering a little more, by doing more one off pieces, that are slightly more expensive; but still keeping the core of the business and catering to the customers that buy our products for their everyday life.
If we could just grow our customer base and have more people coming into the store it would be amazing.
Chloe Dress by Margot Molyneux
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. I think I’m doing better at it this year, it was a conscious decision to try harder. It’s been difficult, because I’ve been at work all the time, basically. I think it’s good for one to also focus on what they enjoy and try set strict timeframes for work and play, so you don’t overwork yourself and end up not having a life, which isn’t healthy. There have been a number of phases, and last year had its own set of challenges – having hired two new people, putting systems in place and managing them. Now that’s settled, I feel I can breathe somewhat.
Q. Any words of wisdom for anyone looking to start up their own brand?
A. I think the most important things would be to stay true to what you know, as cliché as that may sound; stay true to what you’re doing and push for it. Don’t get distracted and worried about what others are doing, because that doesn’t help you; what helps is making what you’re doing believable to others.
Then I would also say focus on how businesses work is also very important. Especially in the design/art industry, being talented doesn’t help if you don’t understand what needs to be done to make the business work. I wish I had focused more on my pricing model, or learnt more about managing cash flow or a thousand other things earlier; we would have had a more smooth running business. It sounds boring and crap, but it’s not because these are the fundamentals needed to keep going and ultimately be successful. You can be making anything, but if you’re not managing it properly and you have no admin skills tracking your stock you have, or sold, etc. then it’s not going to work. Focus on the systems of running a business, that’s helped us a lot.