The Unusual Story Behind ONEOFEACH
Mother and Daughter duo Tamburai and Pauline Chirume are the creative and business forces behind ONEOFEACH, a handbag designer whose business is about more than just the beautiful products they produce. Developing Africa through fashion is their bold goal and they have the plans, products and drive to pull it off. This is the story of their start-up business and how they are making a mark on Western Fashion.
The concept for ONEOFEACH came from the desire to make something exclusive and individual. A luxury product that was a genuine one off original, something that would make each purchaser feel special and unique. While the product concept didn’t start with a bag line, handbags turned out to be the perfect product – you can never have too many, each should be an individual, and the more eye catching the better.
Why African Prints?
The Mother and daughter team knew they wanted their handbags to be uniquely African, but with the style credentials to make them attractive to a European market. African pattern prints with their vibrant colours and diverse patterns were the perfect base for a “one only” handbag line. Pauline had always been a fan of African prints and knew about the complex world of print and cloth quality. So she travelled to the African countries where these prints form a large part of the economy, buying from small traders, making connections and learning about the African print industry from the traders who live it every day.
Africans love bright colours. The brighter the better and it’s not unusual to see several clashing patterns incorporated into the one outfit. But while these prints are fabulous in an African setting, a little goes a long way in western fashion. Combining the print with leather produced a bag that had the vibrancy of the African prints but also a mellower side – literally – one side is African print the other side is leather.
The Business of Sourcing
So now ONEOFEACH had a plan and only needed to source an endlessly varied supply of African print fabrics and an equally endless and varied supply of top quality leather.
The quantity of fabric ONEOFEACH require for each clutch bag is small, but the variety of patterns needed in stock is vast. Having the flexibility to buy smaller quantities of each fabric means they can buy from and support local traders in places like Nigeria and Ghana rather than having to buy direct from the European manufacturers. Supporting local fabric traders provides a defence against cheap Chinese imports one of the biggest threats to the African fabric community.
Leathers are a little more easily sourced and closer to home. Because the quantities of each needed are small, the perfect source is furniture makers, who use large pieces of leather and are left with off-cuts that are of no use to them, but perfectly sized for small handbags. Using offcuts of leather also meant that they could make use of a material that would normally be waste.
But Will Anyone Like it?
Once the first bags were produced they had to be tested with the market they were designed for, Europeans. So ONEOFEACH took their products to the largest tourist craft market in Southern Africa and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. More European centric markets followed, and Africa’s largest creative expo, and a business was born.
The Quality perception is a huge challenge for all designers working from an African base and not without good reason. Much of the African product that is sold into the West is sourced from individuals working in informal manufacturing situations where skill development is low and quality control minimal. Many designers are now recognising that one of the most important attributes of a global sustainable manufacturing businesses is quality and the ability to deliver it repeatedly.
ONEOFEACH recognised early on that if they wanted to be successful in a European market, and actually sell in Europe rather than just to European tourists in Africa, they needed to produce products that could compete with established brands and production houses. They knew that their base materials and manufacturing needed to be consistently high quality and repeatable.
All ONEOFEACH manufacturing is done by hand and tight quality control is the key the their growing base of loyal customers. To maintain the high standards they set themselves both Pauline and Tamburai remain hands on with both the design and production process, doing key tasks like cutting and matching late into the night.
Keeping it All in Order
If the premise of your business is that you only create one of each, then you better make sure that you do. Tamburai spends a great deal of time collating and managing the fabric and leather library and keeping extensive records on which combinations have already been produced. Photographs, details of origin and leather type are all meticulously recorded. When you buy a ONEOFEACH bag you’ll always know the country of origin of the fabric and the type of leather that is used in its construction, and that takes a lot of work and organisation.
Making sure the right bags go in the right orders is also a time consuming job. In a businesses where every single item is distinct from the next it’s challenging to be able to deliver what is ordered, particular where no order will ever be the same and no order will ever be repeated.
A Business Success
With a few years of production under their belt ONEOFEACH now have their own offices in a shared creative space in Cape Town and their eyes firmly fixed on the future. Their beautiful bags are exported to Europe, America and Australia and they have plans to develop more products and incorporate more traditional African skills. We are so proud to represent the amazing ONEOFEACH in Australia and are very excited about what the future might hold for them.
ONEOFEACH clutch bags are available at www.boldlife.com.au