By Libby Peacock
Nina and Bianca Duarte spotted a gap in the market for high-quality, locally produced leather products with a special touch. So, in 2016, they started their own proudly South African small leather-goods business, Journey Leather, in a back room of their parents’ house.
“We wanted to bring something unique to the market,” says Nina, explaining that they started this “total dream project” with just a few timeless, classic pieces.
New to retail and working full time (Bianca as a preschool teacher; Nina as a social media marketer), the sisters set up an online store and “got a fright” when they received their first online order after taking part in their first market (popular artisan pop-up Kamers Makers).
“After creating our collection, we applied to sell our products there, just to see if anyone would even look at our range. Personalisation of products was not common at that time and we wanted to gauge how many people would want their items personalised, if at all.
As the company grew, the sisters “slowly took over” their parents’ garage, and eventually found an office space in Constantia, Cape Town. Today, Journey has customers across the country. “Our online store has also allowed us to receive orders from people all over the world – which is something we will never get used to!”
Journey’s premium leather items include anything from handbags, wallets, duffel bags and lipstick holders to wine carriers, laptop sleeves and more. All can be personalised with embossed monograms or names.
Creating refined leather goods is a craft that requires much skill, Nina stresses. The pair feel strongly about using locally produced leather and making their products at their factory in Observatory, Cape Town. High-quality South African leather products can certainly compete with those of big brand names overseas, she says.
“Manufacturing our own goods here allows us to be completely in control of the designs, materials and finishes. This is also very important to ensure that the talented people of our country have employment.”
Six years on from its humble beginnings, Journey now employs eight staff members and indirectly supports more than 40 people. “Everyone plays an important part in making Journey what it is,” Nina notes.
She concedes that producing locally has not been without its challenges – but the sisters believe “the pay-off” of creating employment far outweighs the convenience and ease of importing from overseas. In addition, most of Journey’s staff members are women. “We love that they’re able to support their families with dignity.”
The essence of the brand
It’s not all plain sailing: Nina says local craftsmanship is “hindered” by the fact that certain fittings and machinery are not readily available in South Africa. “It’s hard to find fittings and trims of superior quality in South Africa, [so] we knew we had to import those we wanted to use to set our products apart.”
Another challenge is scaling the business, but Journey is still “small enough” for the sisters to be hands-on – Bianca running the logistics of outgoing orders, wrapping and packing, and Nina responsible for personalising products and dealing with customer requests. “We work on everything else together.”
Journey is one of a number of deserving small businesses supported by insurer Hollard, via its Big Ads for Small Business campaign to boost small, medium and micro-enterprises in the interests of creating better futures for these businesses and the communities they serve.
Nina says being selected to be part of this high-profile campaign has “opened our business up to people on a whole new scale”.
“Billboards, bus stops, street poles and social media with our faces on them is something we had never even considered when we were selected. The team at Hollard captured the essence of our brand, and the exposure has certainly had a big impact on our sales and overall public trust.
“Seeing a brand on Instagram is great, but seeing it on a billboard makes it real and trustworthy, which has been the greatest impact we’ve felt.”
Timeless colours and pieces
Both sisters have given up their full-time jobs to focus solely on Journey, which they describe as a “one-stop shop” for products people want for themselves or as gifts for others. They also deliver many corporate orders.
Says Nina, “The combination of our soft, premium leathers combined with gold or silver trims really does create a little bit of magic. We’re not too interested in fashion and trends, but rather in timeless colours and pieces that will always be staples.”
So, what items are the most popular?
“Our small loaf bags are our babies! They were one of the first designs we created and we just love them. They are small cosmetic bags that are versatile and easy to use for anything small, really.”
Other popular items include travel accessories such as luggage tags and passport covers, and even “small specials” like looped keyrings.
Nina says, “If you put your mind to something positive you aspire to, it will flourish over time. Some things take time, but it’s important to push through and finish what you started.”
Bianca adds, “Don’t put off what can be done today. If something goes wrong or doesn’t have the desired effect, try again and see how you can improve.”
Opening a physical retail store is something the sisters have wanted to do for a long time. “We’ve decided it’s something we will pursue in 2023. In the meantime, we’ll be on Pinterest for inspiration for the ultimate Journey retail space to showcase the range we love so dearly!”
Established in 1980, the Hollard Insurance Group (“Hollard”) provides short-term and life insurance as well as investment products to a diverse customer base including individual consumers, commercial entities, and corporate clients. It ranks among a growing number of companies advocating an inclusive growth model, measuring its social dividends as well as its contribution to shareholders. Hollard’s organisational Purpose is to enable more people to create and secure a better future. Hollard South Africa and Hollard International wrote a combined premium income in excess of R23-billion in the year to June 2021 across short-term and life insurance operations in 8 countries, namely South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and the Philippines. Since inception, partnership has been at the heart of its business model, with the group today boasting over 100 ventures across the insurance value chain. Each one demonstrates the Hollard belief that there is always a better way and the idea of “win-win-win”, whereby Hollard, the partner and the consumer all win through this spirit of collaboration and co-creation.
Submitted by Flow Communications