Heart & Heritage is a lovingly made, Johannesburg produced, women’s clothing range. We had a chat with the designer of the remarkable fashion line, Lesley Whitter:
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
From when I was little, my mom taught me how to sew and I always enjoyed making clothes as a hobby.
Explain your style and the range of pieces that you have…
We have a few signature cuts such as our Bow Dress and Nicole Top which we carry through in all our collections. Our overall style is comfortable, flattering, wearable pieces for women who need to feel empowered and have ease of movement in their every day lives. As comfortable as our pieces are, we give them a design edge to compliment the uniqueness of the wearer and stand out from the crowd.
We favor subtle, soft natural fibers and colours. Then we throw paint on them to make the fabrics unique to our brand and the garments one of a kind. All our painted garments are heat set so that they remain wearable and washable.
How long have you been in the business?
I have been in the fashion industry since 2005. I started my own label in 2013.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?
To have the bravery to start my own label sooner. To focus on customers needs, listen to their feedback, compliments and criticism in the design and selling process, without taking it personally.
How is it like being a fashion designer in South Africa?
I really enjoy it, I feel a tremendous amount of opportunity here to grow as a designer and a business. I used to live in London and Toronto and for me South Africa is a much easier environment to flourish as a designer. South Africa a really inspiring place to be creatively and to stand out as a creative business.
What do you think Africans should do different as a way of supporting the African designers?
I think it would be wonderful for Africa to be more inclusive in the global fashion industry and have more opportunities and government or private business support to take local design to international markets. We have such talent in Africa and really beautiful heritage design inspiration of our own. Just think of how pretty traditional African Mud Cloth is, Kente Cloth, crafters who make totally unique bead wire pieces and wood carvings and my personal favorite, the colours and shapes found in our Fynbos unique to South Africa. This and more is all influencing a lot of local design and textiles, it would be great to share and sell this globally with more ease.
What outlets do you use to sell your pieces?
I run a collaboration of South African designers called Convoy. I sell in our outlets in Johannesburg, Cape Town and online. I also participate in trade events such as Kamers. You can buy directly from my studio as well.
The most expensive thing in your wardrobe right now is?
I believe it is better to spend more and buy less than spend less and buy more which at the end of the day equates to about the same amount spent anyway. So to focus on quality, long lasting, timeless buys as opposed to cheaper fast fashion items. This means I don’t have an overcrowded wardrobe but every piece I own is well used and loved. I have a Burberry Coat I invested in many years ago on an overseas trip. It certainly was not cheap but it is still a well used and relevant part of my wardrobe and will be for many years still to come.
Who do you look up to in the fashion world?
I like reading success stories of designers and business people who overcame adversity and circumstance to make it big, like Alexander Mcqueen and the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely. Although in the same vein I really admire and aspire to the true artisans who purposefully stay out the commercial main stream, and focus on the value and hand driven nature of their work such as local designers Anmari Honiball, Superella and Marianne Fassler.
Any other extra talents and special hobbies you have?
I am a maker in general. I love curating spaces in my home, studio and shops, refurbishing furniture with my sander and some paint, exploring second had shops for bargains (and then refurbishing them with my sander and paint), making flower arrangements, wreaths, gift wrapping… I love the joy of creating something beautiful and one of a kind.
What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?
Probably just the burden of carrying a lot of risk, which is still my biggest fear. Being tied into leases, investing into new designs that might not sell, being contractually responsible for employees and feeling personally responsible for their well being. A benefit of being a maker at heart however, is finding ways and being determined to make it work no matter what.
Your favorite part about being a designer?
Having flexibility and freedom of choice in my life, setting my own hours and cutting my own path at my own pace.
There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. How do you handle the pressure?
I took that pressure off myself a while back and it was the best thing I ever did for my my own peace of mind. I used to supply a lot of retailers and have a lot of commitments and pressure to deliver new fast selling styles in large quantities. It was making me really stressed out and affecting my design quality overall. I took a few steps back in order to change that, by focusing only on Convoy, working with designers that inspire and uplift me and going back to focusing on quality over quantity.
What advice can you give to the designers who are just beginning their journey?
I work a lot with the students at The University of Johannesburg fashion department and try to mentor them on lessons I have learnt along the way. Lessons such as…
- Make sure to cost your garments correctly or you wont make a profit.
- Decide on your target market, research them and design for them, not for yourself.
- Have a tough skin and don’t take criticism personally, rather choose to learn and grow from it.
- Network with other designers and help each other.
Shop their collection and other top South African designers at Convoy.