Habits recently exhibited at Pure London, the UK’s favourite fashion-buying event, where they showcased their locally produced Travel Collection. Jenny chats to us about the journey and her Pure London showcase.
Habits has been around for a while, surviving these days of fast fashion and cheap imports, what has contributed to your longevity? From small beginnings when I started with only one person working with me, I have increased my staff complement to numerous sales assistants, PAs, managing directors and an online team.
The first lesson that gets drummed into their heads is service, service, service. Before Habits I had been appalled by bad customer relations, so my top priority has always been that personal service is paramount. I feel this is a dying art in store but also online.
My biggest asset is my team who provide the personal service that sets us apart. This extends to having a huge comfy sofa for bored husbands, with plenty of chilled De Grendel wine and the latest magazines on hand.
Many of my staff have been with me for a long time which allows them to build relationships and trust with our clients.
Tell us a little about the collection you showcased at Pure London? It was a difficult collection to do since I was sitting in the sweltering 33º heat of Cape Town while I was designing the AW18 range for a European winter.
We have shown at Pure London once before, when we went as part of the South African delegation with the KZN Fashion Council, exhibiting our best-selling Travel Range. Made from non-crease jersey Lycra, it rolls up in a ball, is non-crease and makes packing so simple – I knew it was a good seller, summer or winter.
Fortunately, I suddenly had a really good feel for velvet, and not just my favourite colours of black, grey and navy, but beautiful jewel tones – we all need a bit of cheering up.
I know about harsh European winters, and for a huge fan of layering, these washable velvet pieces are as perfect for African winters as they are for the English ones.
I’ve included a sort of Diane Keaton/ Annie Hall masculine three-piece suit complete with waistcoat – it’s a masculine look but hasn’t steered me away from the long, full-flowing opera coat, which is not just an easy piece to wear but it suits everybody.
This year we took a huge leap of faith and booked a stand at Pure London on our own – the only South African women’s wear label exhibiting. I have a factory of 25 people to keep in jobs in a challenging economic climate, and to be honest, it’s difficult to keep going. The only way I could see that I could keep a full-blown factory running was to dive in at the deep end, take a chance and put my money where my mouth was.
It’s frightening, but I have learnt you have to take risks in order to grow in a sustainable way.
It takes a lot of hard work but we have huge faith in our team, who exceeded our expectations, and we’re really proud of our results.
Our customer base has grown and we’ve committed to exhibiting at the next Pure London show in July. We’re proud to be flying the flag for South Africa at the show with our “proudly made in Cape Town” range, and visitors loved our stand, complete with a beaded rhino all the way from Cape Town. Local is lekker!
Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection? Absolutely not! I normally leave it late and have to panic through the last few weeks of delivering a collection, but I think I work best under pressure.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned since you started Habits? The biggest lesson is not to stand still. I went from a one-man band in 1986 to the next step of buying a building in Claremont, to expanding my team, to having my first Joburg Trunk Show 22 years ago, to opening a factory, to launching South Africa’s first online fashion store in 2002. The brand has to keep reinventing itself.
What advice would you give to young designers? Attach yourself to a known designer and learn as much as you can.
Be prepared to put in the hours and get paid very little. If you start your own business, be prepared that you will not make money in the first two years.
How important is Fashion Week for you? Showing off is part of the business and I can’t stress how important it is showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Cape Town (MBFWCT). It’s expensive, but when you think about the organisers African Fashion International put in, it’s a drop in the ocean. In fact, when I started out, I used to share shows with other designers to save money.
To demonstrate how important it is, in the weeks following MBFWCT, our figures go up and it’s not just our regular customers, but a lot of new clients. Fashion Week is a platform not just to show what sells, but to give you the opportunity to really extend what you do in real life, go a bit over the top and have some fun.
Without giving too much away, our theme for this year’s Fashion Week this month is “It’s complicated”, but that’s all I’m saying.
How would you describe the Habits woman? We aspire to having customers from aged 18 to 80. Our clients are busy women on the move, especially our online customers, who trust the brand. We have women who may be insecure with clothes and they appreciate that we don’t just sell frocks – our staff are trained to give honest advice on anything from packing and colours to wardrobe management and styles.
* The Habits Fashion Boutique is in Cavendish Close, Claremont.
Visit Habits at: http://www.habits.co.za/
* The Mercedes Benz Fashion Week will take place from March 23-25 in Camps Bay. Visit: http://africanfashioninternational.com/
This piece was first published in the Cape Argus and The Star on March 10 2017. For more of my work visit: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style/fashion
Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter: @Nontando58