Bagging It!

Forbes Woman Africa
Published 7 years ago

Growing up in Ulundi, in KwaZulu-Natal, Pearl Khethiwe Thusi would watch her mother sew her own clothes at home.

“I was fascinated to comprehend how ideas could be translated into tangible products,” says Thusi.

Those were her first lessons in creativity. In 2007, she completed a three-year diploma in Clothing and Textile at the Durban University of Technology, and relocated to Cape Town, where she worked for a few years. Soon, she launched her label, Pearls for EL, in 2012, designing and manufacturing genuine leather bags and African apparel for men and women.

Starting with 100 leather bags, sold through direct marketing, the brand gained recognition in the first eight months of its inception. Thusi became known as the ‘Bag Lady’, and secured trading space at Durban’s high-end boutiques. She soon opened her own studio in Glenwood, Durban.

Although she often travels to London, Turkey, and the United Kingdom to exhibit and connect with potential customers and investors, Thusi says her customer is here in Africa.

Of late, she has been doing business in North Africa, where she sees potential. In 2014, she supplied 1,000 leather bags, each worth $68, to Air Zimbabwe stewardesses. She also bagged a R3.4 million ($240,000) deal with Zambia Police, and has a continuing partnership with them. Thusi tells us more:


What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry?


I think not many challenges as a woman but just as a general South African. Issues of funding are still a challenge. Often entrepreneurs want to implement ideas now. It is wonderful to have ideas but implementation requires finance which is a long process for approval and response.


How would you inspire others with your clothing?


I would like to see women believe in themselves and their dreams. We can’t all be entrepreneurs but in whatever space we play in, let’s do our best with good intentions and motives. Walk away fulfilled after executing a project, give it your best, be genuine and authentic and make your presence felt by being you.

How can businesses or corporates invest in local designers?


By looking for ‘ideas that can change the world’. It takes time and patience to develop solid leads for investors. I think designers need to start creating and solving problems for today and the future through sustainable production of raw materials to the end product. You can attract investors for a small business with preparation, planning, strategy and proper research. Finding an investor may be the key to launching a start-up business successfully.


Where do you see African fashion going?


It looks exciting. More and more designers are focusing on producing quality products, utilizing different and exciting materials. So this really gives a sense of individuality amongst the designers and quite frankly, consumers do want to look different from what’s been offered in the past. Social media also puts pressure for consumers to always look relevant, so designers score here.