PE store gives local designers a platform

MARCH 29, 2016

A children’s store new to the Eastern Cape is giving local design entrepreneurs the launchpad of a lifetime by highlighting unique creations and showcasing them nationally and internationally.

National franchise Kids Emporium, which has opened its first Eastern Cape store at Baywest Mall, searches for stock for its stores countrywide – and soon in the UK – by tapping into the design smarts of children’s industry entrepreneurs in the communities they operate in.

Rachel Nieuwoudt is one of the city’s creatives whose kids’ décor range – which includes chalkboards, lighting and personalised signage – got its first major national break this year thanks to Kids Emporium. The store also proudly boasts the stock of PE-based Sarah Massey-Hicks, creator of the popular Myang brand of baby and toddler shoes.

Franchisee Charlene Bower said supporting local design and fellow entrepreneurs through the Baywest Mall Kids Emporium store were her twin passions. The outlet stocks a range of innovative mother and baby product lines – from custom-built furniture to travel systems designed to European safety standards, organic bath and skincare products, maternity wear, décor, BPA-free bottles, and feeding utensils.

“We have such great design talent in South Africa that a lot of people never get to hear about. Getting your name out there can be quite difficult – as a designer I know how trying it can be,” said Bower, who was one of 10 young entrepreneurs chosen to exhibit at the Kamers Vol Geskenke craft fair in Cape Town in 2012.

Since then, Bower’s own career path has meandered from teaching children with special needs to financial management in the motor industry. But, she said, all these disparate experiences had been pulled together and found their perfect expression in running the Kids Emporium store.

The 30-year-old said PE boasted as much talent as the larger centres, but that getting the right kind of exposure was often difficult. Despite this, a number of local creatives had made it big, said Bower, including Massey-Hicks and, hopefully one day, Nieuwoudt too.

Bower said supplying to the large and established Kids Emporium group – with 26 stores nationwide and the first UK outlet launching soon – provided a great distribution network for premium quality, locally made products.

Nieuwoudt, who came up with innovative children’s décor, went through a round of negotiations about her products and their pricing before being added as a listed supplier with the group.

“The store owners now get in touch with me and order whatever they need. We have orders pending for the UK branch too – it’s very scary but cool,” she said.

Aside from the high demand for stock from these stores, Niewoudt said she – with help from her husband – was also kept busy with custom-made orders from the local market.

“We produce 100 per cent unique products. We don’t copy, and we come up with our own designs and then produce the goods,” she said.

Bower said Kids Emporium tended to favour handcrafted, more natural products that offered simple, clever solutions to everyday struggles that parents face.

“We’ve found that moms across all income groups want the best for their babies. So while many might not buy the luxuries, they do invest in items like safe and natural teething products, good quality bottles and medical-grade silicone latching spoons to help the transition to solid foods.

“Head office researches and tests all products before they enter stores to ensure that they are of the highest quality at an affordable price.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to good design and great quality and this is something that can easily be achieved if you concentrate on your workmanship and craft.”

Aside from the designers themselves, Bower said involvement in the Kids Emporium brand also ensured sustainable job creation for their small teams of seamstresses and workers.

“I believe we’re building something for those people and their children too, and I hope to be able to contribute largely in building this network.”

According to founder Lauren de Swardt, 70% of the goods available via the UK master franchise in Guildford, Surrey, would be manufactured in South Africa.