Yesterday, whilst in New Zealand, I caught up with a good friend, who as the founder of her company, often speaks at various events. She uses these opportunities as a platform to share her journey while informing the audience about her product. It's her 'matter-of-fact' delivery that always engages great enjoyment in her audience. Yesterday, during the question and answer segment of her presentation, Lilly was asked 'how do you choose between being a great Mum and a great CEO?'. I was flabbergasted. Later in the day, when I shared this with Lilly, she explained that gender referencing was not a surprise to her, and in fact, was a constant in a lot her public appearances. Naturally, this got me thinking...
VASH was born out of a love of design and quality craftsmanship. Our founding vision was to apply our love of texture to timeless, classic designs. I was living in South Africa with my husband Darren when I first started playing with this concept. Upon the arrival of our son Kingsley, I realised I needed to keep my creative mind busy. The very first bag was designed with the help of a team in Kwazulu Natal. This was a huge oversized tote bag, adored by family and friends. It gave me the confidence to trial making bags on a commercial scale some years down the track.
WHERE TO START…
With the power of hindsight, my initial business plan can be deemed as lame at best and pathetic at worst. I planned to travel the world to find inspiration and apply my design edge and love of new textures. Combining these elements would allow me to craft items of beauty that everyone would love. Beautifully naïve!
Back in Nelson, New Zealand (where I am originally from), I worked closely with friend and fashion designer Marc MacDonald to pattern 10 bag designs. I sent five patterns off to three prospective production partners in China, South Africa and Portugal. It was amazing how different the finish was considering all three workshops had received the same instructions. It was here I learned that every craftsman style and technique is based on years of exposure to their craft, culture and unique techniques. All three workshops produced stellar work!
Due to our family ties in South Africa and the appeal of working with a developing country, we decided to start crafting our bags there. Another plus was the ability to purchase materials from leaders in sustainable farming practices. Our trade would not only benefit the workshops and tanneries but also the farmers and in turn the local communities.
We partnered with two workshops in Cape Town to assist with crafting our bags. FSP, owned by leather distribution and tourist merchandise manufacturing aficionado Fiona Spolander, and Leather Unlimited, owned by a delightful Afrikaans couple. With the support and guidance of these experienced and helpful partners, we managed to build our brand.
As production price increases began to impact our sales, we decided to try running our own simple workshop. With the assistance of Darren’s sister Cathy Bouwer, we commenced making our top-selling simple styles. The lessons came in fast and plentiful! After several sizable knockbacks, Darren and I reluctantly agreed to walk away from this production model.
LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
With a focus on getting production in South Africa at its best, I realised I had stopped listening to our customers. Our agents and stockists loved the concept, but we needed improved quality and variation. Things we couldn’t do just from South Africa, we needed to add in a different production element to build our brand.
After researching Hong Kong, China, the Philippines and Vietnam, we decided to go to China and investigate further. What an adventure! Our top three workshops had all crafted our patterns superbly and presented all the information requested, and more. Spending time in their workshops with their craftspeople was a real pleasure. We decided to partner with a small family-owned factory due to their lead account manager, who really wowed me with her responsiveness and contagious laughter.
SO WHERE IS VASH FROM…
Vash is a New Zealander, living and designing in Australia. We work with global production partners to bring you a brand which delivers superb quality and timeless designs while using interesting natural materials. VASH is currently crafted in South Africa and China and we look forward to creating more beautiful and quality goods that last a lifetime.