| Tokelo Motsepe
A. I studied accessories design and though I wasn’t really a bag person, I saw it as a canvas to explore my love for patterns and surface details. Every woman needs one or many handbags and it seemed a good canvas to use. That was the initial thinking and why I gravitated towards studying accessory design and getting into bags specifically.
While studying I really enjoyed it, but found the industry to be too cut-throat for me, I’m very sensitive and found myself quite disillusioned by it all. There was no clear beginning, it was quite an organic process, that saw me start out making everything myself in a friends studio and people responded well and when I couldn’t keep up, I found Des to work with and later got a studio together. One thing lead to another and at some point I had to find a name for this thing we had created and then work on the brand identity and that was a bout 6 months to a year later. It’s been quite an evolutionary journey and I like that, that’s true to who and how I am; I believe in the organic flow of things.
Q. What would you say has been your greatest achievement since launching the brand?
A. The fact that we’re still around after 12 years. It’s been quite a journey. The fact that the team works well together, loves and supports each other. And creating products that people love and keep for a long time.
It’s quite something seeing someone using your product and how it’s taken on the life of that person. A bag is quite a thing, I imagine we would have always had some form of bag, being gatherers and all. It almost has a protective quality, cause it holds so much for us [even for others, with the nature of those around us needing help with their loads], maybe even energetically more than we realize. And I feel so blessed to be able to create something that can do that, that can play such a part.
Q. What was most challenging in starting up the brand? And how did you overcome that?
A. So many challenges, but I would say the initial lack of access to materials really frustrating, but that frustration caused us to be more creative in how we work – leading to us designing our own fabrics, printing on our leather, etc. It helped us broaden our scope and I believe also lead to the very strong hand-writing we now have. Access to a constant supply of beautiful leather is still a frustration, cause although we work with a great local tannery, the size of our business makes it difficult to develop what we really want to do, with minimums and such. Over the years we have found some brilliant suppliers who have been understanding and worked with us and those relationships have been key.
The financial side is also a challenge I’m sure most face. It costs a huge amount to run an ethical business, ensuring everyone is paid well, buying top quality leather, creating a beautiful environment within a shop… it all takes some juggling and it can easily crush ones creative spirit. That one is a constant and you just need to keep on persevering and not allowing it to affect your energy and get you down; cause there is so much beauty in pursuing your purpose. It’s really about choosing where you want to focus your energy and trusting in the bigger picture and your ultimate purpose.
Q. Which African brand(s) would you want to collaborate with in future?
A. Pichulik and Mami Wata are two that we recently collaborated with, but I have to be honest, I don’t have my finger on the pulse and very open to suggestions. Though I enjoy partnering with other brands, I’ve learnt over the years how any collaboration requires some balancing, and with us having to ensure our orders and store stocks are prioritized, we don’t take on too many at a time; but are very open to learning of new brands that could be a great fit for us to work with.
Q. Where would you like to see your brand in 5 or 10 years?
A. I would like to reach a broader international market, and hope that our online store will help with that; but locally I would like to maintain things as they are. Also to continue exploring and see what comes up, as I’ve found this journey, with the team and my own personally, you can never be sure of how things will turn out, especially with the current state of the world; I would really love to just maintain the energy of the brand.
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. I have an amazing team that now allows me to explore a new creative outlet of creating art – I have a studio in the studio, which has greatly improved the general flow of things for me; and now I just need to find the right rhythm (how much time I spend on each part). I haven’t quite worked it out, I’m not quite getting enough sleep, with this new painting thing, work and family, but I’m aware of it and constantly working at it; self-care is key.
Q. Any words of wisdom for anyone looking to start up their own brand?
A. You need to be tenacious and love what you’re doing, because it’s not easy, it’s a lot of hard work. In the beginning, I worked until about 11 pm or midnight every night for years, simply because I loved and was obsessed with it. If you love it, you put the right energy into all that you do and can get over most hurdles, but if your passion isn’t there, it’s harder to weather the stormy bits. Persevere, but also know when to let go; know when you have worked at something enough and when it’s time to move on.