Prints charming

2013-12-10 11:00

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Clothing designer Gareth Cowden is making global waves with Babatunde – the trendy fashion label sporting African print clutches, hats, ties, umbrellas and a host of other accessories. He shares the story of his success

Where I got my idea

I was a fashion stylist for various magazines when I visited Libreville, Gabon, in 2007.

I was inspired by how everyone there wore vibrant prints. When I moved back to Joburg in 2009, after a year as a stylist in London, I thought of how to combine that African aesthetic with everyday trends.

How I got started

Initially the business was funded purely with money I made from freelance styling projects. I worked from home and my garments were sold at Big Blue stores and markets in Joburg.

Where I am now

I employ an assistant and we supply stock to about 15 stores in SA. Apart from selling online, I also stock shops in Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda and Benin, plus Holland, Switzerland, France, England, Scandinavia, the States and Japan.

The main challenge I faced was...

Getting manufacturers to take my idea seriously. They’re used to massive orders, not a request to make five hats. I had to convince them to make my products and eventually that paid off. As my business grew, my orders got bigger and the relationship got easier.

Highlights of my business include...

Having our umbrellas nominated as the Most Beautiful Object in SA at Design Indaba 2012; the amazing coverage we’ve received in SA and being featured in the latest issue of [international design magazine] Wallpaper.

Also receiving a huge order from [the biggest online retailer in Europe] and seeing Solange Knowles in one of our caps at New York Fashion Week.

What I’ve learned

• If you want your business to grow, friendships and business need to remain separate. Friends often want favours or take liberties. It is a business at the end of the day. Clients are clients whether they are friends or you’ve never met them before.

• Don’t start work or hand over stock without a deposit.

• Remember that dreaming needs to be backed up with hard work.

• Stick to your word and never miss deadlines.

• Learn about business and how it works. I’ve hired a business coach to speed up my learning process.

My biggest mistakes

• Getting over-excited by hype, talk and speculation rather than signed orders.

• Being too trusting of ‘potential’ clients and people in general.

• Not being firm enough when it comes to business.

If I could pass on one message

Show people that you have a quality product and lots of passion – many people has good ideas but no end product. Don’t rush things; grow your business sustainably, organically. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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