There is no doubt that Amorie Daubern has a wonderful eye for detail and a huge creative streak that has now found its true meaning in her new entrepreneurial venture, Volhart. She creates beautiful and unique, handmade and environmentally friendly homeware and stationery items that are inspired by the breath-taking beauty and indigenous character of the country she so loves - South Africa.
LoA had the pleasure of speaking to Amorie about her inspiration and her business during the recent Kamers2015 handmade goods expo in Johannesburg, South Africa, and seeing at first hand these wonderful products she creates, each one with a story behind it.
Tell us a little about how your company, Volhart, first got started and what it does.
My entrepreneurial journey first started around two and a half years ago and at that time I was working as an interior architect full-time and I had my own huge studio here in South Africa. I fell pregnant with my third child, and as a result, we took a decision that everything should slow down. We relocated to George in the Western Cape, but I felt I still needed to be creative and I realised that my heart was full of all these creative things that needed to get out - and, that is where the name of my business today, Volhart, comes from. Translated from Afrikaans, Volhart means ‘my heart is full’. So, my new found creativity stems from this time in my life and Volhart describes how my heart is full of all these creative things I want to do and never empty. That was the start of my personal entrepreneurial journey.
"Translated from Afrikaans, Volhart means ‘my heart is full’. So, Volhart describes how my heart is full of all these creative things I want to do and is never empty."
In terms of what Volhart does and the type of products we create, most of the things are inspired by my own personal experience and the voids I have found that exist as a mom, as a wife and as a woman, and I want to fill those voids with creative, beautiful and inspirational things. That is where the idea for our wonderful Volhart lunchbox letters came from. I used to put little inspirational love letters into my son’s lunchbox each day when he went to school, and I realised that over time he kept them all in a little box in his desk drawer. That was where the idea came from for our Volhart lunchbox letter tins. I realised that we need to provide inspiration and reaffirm our love in our children’s lives each day and what a wonderful way to do it, with little letters and messages tucked into their lunch boxes at school. My husband then asked me one day why there wasn't something just like it for husbands and wives to give to each other. As a result, Volhart’s lunchbox letters evolved into something that everyone can give to their loved ones, whether they are children, husbands and wives, and even friends. So now, if you give a box of chocolates to a loved one or a friend, you can simply pop one of these little letters into the box with a little message from the heart. Today, these lunchbox letters are one of our most popular products in the Volhart range. Another real favourite amongst customers is the wooden stationery we produce. That all started when I made postcards - it used to break my heart when I received a postcard in the mailbox and it looked really worn and torn by the time it had completed its journey to me. So, I thought how can I send a postcard without it looking completely damaged by the time it reaches its destination? I started to do quite a lot of investigation into ideas and the concept of producing a postcard out of wood, that could still be posted in the mail. After much research and production trial and error, we found a birch wood that could easily be cut into the shape of a postcard, and light enough to send in the post.
"I feel our range of products really encompasses what South Africa is all about, not in the usual way depicting elephants and other wildlife that one typically sees on products - there is so much more to our beautiful country. I feel that the African chic range of stationery and gift products we produce at Volhart evokes a different type of spirit."
Do you do all the design work yourself for Volhart and for all the products and gift items in your range?
Yes, I do all the design work myself, and in fact most of the manufacturing too, including the packaging, the printing and the painting, etc, mostly by hand, and with only a small amount of the work being undertaken by a third party. The rest of the work is undertaken by my family - this is a real family owned and operated business. I also involve my children a little bit so that they feel part of Volhart, particularly during the really busy periods such as when we are preparing for major exhibitions, such as the Kamers event in Johannesburg.
Being based in George in South Africa, how do you retail your products at Volhart?
Actually, slowly but surely people are getting to know us, particularly through social media such as Facebook and our website. In fact, we are looking at retailing online in the near future. We also wholesale our products to other retail shops here in South Africa, but we are currently investigating opportunities to retail our products abroad, particularly in Europe - we have family networks in both Belgium and France, so they are possible starting points for us. In terms of our future growth, we would definitely like to sell our products internationally. I feel our range of products really encompasses what South Africa is all about, not in the usual way depicting elephants and other wildlife that one typically sees on products - there is so much more to our beautiful country. I feel that the African chic range of stationery and gift products we produce at Volhart evokes a different type of spirit.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge for me was being reliant on third party producers, recognising that not everything can be done by yourselves. So the process of getting people to perform and produce your goods in the way that you would do them yourself from a quality perspective, has been a particular challenge. However, we are slowly but surely getting to where we want to be in this regard now. We have refined our entire production process so that it is easier for everybody involved to get things right, particularly on those product lines where there are four individual production processes to go through. An example of this complex process can be seen in our wooden cutout coasters which look like miniature landscapes, and there are many individual stages of the production process to go through and many techniques to be used, just to produce this one item.
"We have slowly managed to get the majority of our supply chain here in the local neighbourhood. That means we are able to support our local communities and local craftspeople."
How much of your supply chain is in close proximity to where you are based?
Since moving to George in the Western Cape, we have slowly managed to get the majority of our supply chain here in the local neighbourhood. That means we are able to support our local communities and local craftspeople. As a result, Volhart is becoming much more of a sustainable enterprise and our eco-footprint is so much better because we are locally producing our goods. We make a point of using George-based businesses and individual craftspeople in terms of our supply chain.
What can people expect to see from Volhart over the next year?
Definitely more of our wooden products and what people may not realise is that they are much more sustainable than similar paper products because they last. Our wooden calendars, if you look after them, will last a lifetime. In terms of new products to be launched, I have already developed a new concept for a wooden family schedule planner which is erasable, so you can write on it and make notes using a normal pencil. And, like all our products, being made of wood they are very family friendly and pretty indestructible, which when you have small children is a good thing.
We are also looking to raise the profile of Volhart over the coming year, using our social media and online marketing platforms to help us to connect with people more.
As a woman entrepreneur, do you have any advice for other young aspirant women entrepreneurs out there who may be looking to start up their own businesses in the future?
I would say never, ever give up - if you have a dream, pursue it. Do not lend your ears to other people who might discourage you and say you can’t do it. Also, when you are on your entrepreneurial journey, and you are facing challenges and feel like giving up, don’t - just keep going and remember you are only half-way through your journey. Get through your challenges and then you will see the results and get that satisfaction that no money in the world can buy.
Why LoA loves it….
When LoA first met Amorie Daubern at the Kamers Johannesburg exhibition, we were immediately taken by the huge amount of attention paid to the smallest creative details on all the products created for Volhart, and they are special because each one is lovingly handcrafted. Amorie is one of those special, creative entrepreneurs who have a genuine passion for what they do, and that is reflected in each and every one of the items produced and sold. We particularly loved the beautifully packaged lunchbox letter tins - what a fabulous idea and how wonderful to be a small child or a loved one and to receive one of these little letters in your lunchbox each day. A must-have gift. --- Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and editor-in-chief