Talking 'Brand Essence' with Heart & Heritage designer Lesley Whitter
Heart & Heritage is a lovingly made, Johannesburg produced and handcrafted women's clothing brand designed by Lesley Whitter. It focuses on wearability, flattering fits and comfort for stylish and confident women.
noun: heart; plural noun: hearts
1. The heart regarded as the centre of a person's thoughts and emotions, especially love or compassion.
noun: heritage; plural noun: heritages
1. Valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations.
The team caught up with Lesley - founder and designer of Heart & Heritage, about the brand and this is what she had to say:
Tell us about you and the founding of the brand
I grew up in Johannesburg and studied both business and fashion design at The University of Johannesburg. This city runs in my veins and I love the creative energy here. After travelling overseas for a number of years after my studies and broadening my mind to the big wide world, I returned to my beloved Jozi and started my brand part time while working a full time job in clothing retail. I sold at a variety of small markets to start, then some bigger ones and finally took the leap to running my own label full time.
What is your brand essence?
I design unique pieces that can be worn every day. My designs are comfortable, practical and flattering but they have a design edge to them or a one of a kind detail that makes the person wearing them feel truly unique and special as they should. I want my designs to be everyone's go to piece in their wardrobe.
What are some of the struggles affecting brand owners like you which are unique to South Africa?
I think the economy is in a bit of a slump at the moment which affects the number of retail sales we make, but I’m optimistic this will improve with our new leadership. The drought in Cape Town has also taken an additional toll on sales in the mother city with a decline in the number of tourists frequenting the city. Overall though, I still choose South Africa as the country I want to reside and do business in, I believe we have an incredibly bright future.
What's your creative process?
I listen to feedback from my customers about fit and needs and try to incorporate that into future designs. I also love to travel, I have family overseas and try to travel internationally at least once a year. I always come back from these trips feeling inspired and eager to design from the experiences I’ve had and seen. Sometimes even just going to a fabric supplier can be inspiration for a new design when you get to see an exciting new fabric to work with. I also do a lot of hand painting in my work as this makes each garment one of a kind.
Usually I start with a rough sketch in a journal I always carry with me, then I move on to pattern making, fabric hunting and sampling. Then finally the final production and grading. Often the end result is totally different from the initial rough sketch, but in a good way.
What are your brand & personal values and where do these two meet?
Brand and personal values are the same as my work is who I am. I value the process/story behind a garment, so I know every step of the process from concept to the market place is ethical, fair and true to what we tell our customers when they purchase from us. All garments are made locally and support local jobs and economy. I believe in supporting local industry, and find it easy to do because we have such talented people in our country. I also believe in giving back when we are able to, so one way I am really happy that I have found is to support future young designers in their education. I do an annual project with the UJ fashion department students to teach them an experiential approach to designing. They get to design a range for Convoy and sell it for a month in store, learning the process of design so that they are better prepared when they one day want to start their own labels.
You've recently started a creative & collaborative platform called "Convoy". We attended one of the events there, what was the aim of the event?
To create awareness for Convoy and to show the fashion community of South Africa that there is life beyond big shopping malls for retail in South Africa. I am the founder and co-ordinator of Convoy and it is also my only outlet, so I take a lot of the responsibility in ensuring it’s success. We also wanted to be able to better express the stories and designer's methods behind our work, as this often doesn’t come through in a fashion show. By having an event with designers present, we were able to engage directly with our audience.
(At the event) What inspired the the themes "Red Line"?
The Red Line connects you to local design, and connects individual designers to each other as a joint fashion force of newfound mutual strength. It symbolizes innovation and flexibility, reflecting the ways that we collaborate and adapt in the modern marketplace. The Red Line highlights artisan work, ethical production and the hand-made, while drawing you on a path of creative discovery.
What do you envision for the future where the brand is concerned?
I would like to focus on online sales in the immediate future, but my long term goal is to start building an international presence as well.
"My why is simple, because I love it."
How has the company culture influenced your business growth & what does it look like?
My culture of focusing on the story behind the garment has meant taking a few steps back in my business growth recently in order to make sure I am taking the right steps forward. I pulled out of a lot of suppliers because I felt my story was getting lost with them. At Convoy I have control over the way my collection is expressed to the market, so I have linked the growth of Heart & Heritage to the growth of Convoy. I would rather grow slowly and maintain my brand integrity than have a massive business with no soul left in it.