Name of company: Egality
Years in existence: 4
Position: Founder and Creative Director
Can you tell us a little bit about your background – education and professional?
Born and raised in the United Kingdom – I grew up in Somerset in the South West then went to Kings College London where I studied History. I first arrived in South Africa in September 2007. After one month in Johannesburg I had fallen both for the city and for my now husband Jaco Spies – it was clearly the place for me.
I have always been fascinated by the fashion industry and my personal background has some interesting fashion heritage. Part French, my great-grandfather owned a fabric mill in the Champagne region creating exclusive woolens for the Paris couture industry – while his daughters modeled for Christian Dior himself in the 1950s. With an artist mother and sister and nuclear engineer father, I developed a passion for both design and the more scientific discipline of business.
I gained experience in business working for an international strategy consulting firm Bain & Company (engaging with the likes of Burberry in the UK). Later I joined Edcon here in South Africa where my passion for the local fashion retail industry was cemented.
Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do?
When I originally arrived in South Africa from London in 2007 I struggled to find a shop that offered something beyond big name brands and high street stores. In particular I felt there was no home for the top South African designer brands – some had set up their own stores but there was no multi-brand platform on which newer labels could showcase their collections.
Having seen the depth of talent in South African design I decided in January 2011 to start Egality – a fashion retail store in Parkhurst, Johannesburg – specializing in South African designer brands. Now in its fourth year, Egality showcases both local and international fashion labels for men and women. I love living and working in South Africa and am proud to have been awarded SA Glamour Woman of the Year for Fashion and Style in 2013 as well as the AFI Africa Fashion Award for Best Fashion Entrepreneur of 2013.
What is your overall vision for the business?
For Egality to be a multi-brand platform on which newer labels could showcase their collections and represent a blend of the best local and selected international designer labels. At Egality the store is a stage – we believe that fashion is art and therefore curate all our designer’s collections in line with ever-changing themes. We don’t just assist customers – we style them – our in-store specialists are fashion professionals who can provide tailored styling advice to all our customers.
What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?
The first and most important step is to identify a gap in the current market – to look at what is currently available and put together a customer proposition which is different. There is no point in regurgitating something someone else is already doing.
Next step is to keep at it. If you have a really strong customer proposition and have figured out what your competitive advantage is, then you need have no fear – ignore the nay sayers and just stick to your guns. Everyone will think you are going to fail if you propose doing something different – the secret is that’s the only way to succeed.
Finally, hedge your bets. Try not to take too much risk up front, that way if you have made a mistake (which you will) you can get out of it sharpish. At Egailty our biggest risk was going to be our location – and in retail this is probably the most critical decision you can make. To mitigate the risk of getting it wrong we started with a pop-up strategy – going into empty locations at a low rental and a promise to move out as soon as they found a ‘real’ tenant. By doing this we found our feet in Parkhurst, identified the right section of the street to be in and could confidently sign a three year lease when the right opportunity came along.
How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?
Our approach was to start small and relatively cautious. My original desire was to grow organically and avoid taking any debt – above all I was determined not to give away any equity and have to run my decisions past anyone. It turns out this simply is not possible if you want to grow your business to scale and start turning a big enough profit to pay yourself. I was lucky enough to be able to raise capital from friends and family and have so far avoided giving away any shares. This (as far as I can tell) is by far the easiest route to take to raise capital – the trick is to make sure you have a great story and a good trading record to show people.
What are the three things you attribute your business success to?
A great idea, focusing on (and constantly learning from) our customer, the never ending support (emotional, financial and professional) of my long-suffering husband, Jaco.
When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?
At the same time I realised I could not work for anyone else ever again – The day I handed in my notice to start Egality.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in leading by example. I expect my team to be able to understand their role and manage themselves to achieve their objectives. My job is to enable them to do that so that as a group we are all successful.
What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you in growing your business?
Paco Underhill’s books about the science of shopping is a must read for anyone interested in retail – The call of the Mall/Why we Buy
What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?
And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?
Both, but its about working smarter, not harder – right now I believe in balance.