South Africa currently has a rich fashion scene that is building a significant fan-base, both at home and abroad, and the August resort-inspired, lifestyle clothing brand is one of the labels that is getting noticed, for all the right reasons. August’s design philosophy is pure and sophisticated, inspired by both the resort and casual sides of the South African lifestyle, and appealing to the fashion-minded, modern woman.
LoA met with Robyn Victor, founder and creative force behind August recently at the Kamers2015 Johannesburg exhibition and chatted to her about the building of her lifestyle clothing brand.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how you started your company.
I started the business once I had finished studying fashion, graphic design and advertising in Cape Town, and after working for a company that did design work for retail company Woolworths for three years. My real entrepreneurial journey started in 2009 when I began my own company - I had become so tired of putting my energy into someone else’s business and brand, and with big companies, the tendency is always to water everything down in design and concept terms. Whatever original product concept you come up with, it always tends to become a watered down version when it eventually hits the shelves, and not really what you envisaged in the first place. So, my rationale for starting my own business was to be able to design and produce the perfect version of a product. Also, boredom was a factor, just doing the same thing every day was another reason for going out on my own and starting my own business.
"My rationale for starting my own business was to be able to design and produce the perfect version of a product."
Was your experience of starting up your own business what you thought it would be?
No, I wish I had studied for an MBA as well as a creative degree, because it is so important to learn about the business side of things, for example garment production costings and planning cashflow forecasts. Also, another of the challenges I experienced when starting up in business related to a lack of business confidence. When it is your own business and someone criticises something you have designed and produced, there is a tendency to take it very personally, which can make things tricky. However, over the years I have learned to get over that and not to take any criticism personally.
"I had become so tired of putting my energy into someone else’s business and brand - and with big companies, the tendency is always to water everything down in design and concept terms."
How big is your business now and how much has it changed over the years?
I still run all aspects of the business myself and outsource all my manufacturing, pattern-making, cutting, etc. The factory that I use for my production relies on me for around 80% of their business, and they have grown with me as my business has also grown. They originally started with three machinists and today they have around eight or nine, so my business has actually led to employment opportunities for others in the industry and they have become very reliant upon my workflow to them. This responsibility does add another layer of stress at a personal level on me and my business. However, by outsourcing my production, it works for me and the business, as during the quieter times such as over the winter period, I don’t have any unnecessary overheads to deal with and the worry of having to keep machinists or other workers busy. It also allows me to manage cashflow better during such periods.
"When it is your own business and someone criticises something you have designed and produced, there is a tendency to take it very personally, which can make things tricky. However, over the years I have learned to get over that and not to take any criticism personally."
Tell us about the ethos of the company and the brand?
August is more of a lifestyle brand - it has a resort-style feel to it, and is very suited to the South African market because it is casual in the way that you can dress it up when needed, but you can wear it anywhere - to the beach, to a wedding, for business. You don't have to buy a whole wardrobe to cover what you do in every aspect of your life - the brand is adaptable, flexible and ultimately it is classic in terms of its silhouettes, meaning it won't date, and you can wear it for years. My fabric choices are extremely important to me, they have to be high quality and they have to be practical and last well. Some of my fabrics are locally printed here in Cape Town and some are imported from Europe. In terms of my collections, I don’t really focus on different pieces for each season, I cater more for people that travel and need more of a capsule wardrobe - my design style is relaxed and easy.
Where do you see your brand August going in the future - what are your aspirations for it?
In October last year, I opened a new store at the Watershed in Cape Town which is going really well and I would like to expand and open another store, probably by the summer of this year. I am also excited about doing more exhibitions and pop up events such as the Kamers Handmade Fairs in Johannesburg and Cape Town and others, and that keeps me busy.
"In terms of my collections, I don’t really focus on different pieces for each season, I cater more for people that travel and need more of a capsule wardrobe - my design style is relaxed and easy."
What entrepreneurial advice would you give to other aspirant women fashionpreneur startups?
I would say know what your brand is going to be when you first start in business, know what your brand identity is, don't try and copy anyone else. Also importantly in the fashion business, cost out your garments multiple times and ask for advice before you start producing. It is a big learning curve when you first start out, and in fact, I still learn something new every week. Try and get a business oriented person or a financial planner involved in the early days for essential advice and guidance.
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Why LoA loves it….
Robyn Victor is not only a talented designer, but she also has a great entrepreneurial outlook and is destined for even greater things. We particularly love her idea of the resort-inspired capsule wardrobe, and her collections are not only uniquely beautiful and feminine, but they immediately make you want to pack a suitcase and head off to a relaxing, sun-filled destination. August is definitely on our shopping list from now on. --- Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and editor-in-chief