The Business of Design seminars host designers of sort to exchange ideas on how to lubricate the wheels of business while still maintaining impactful designs. Lucilla Booyzen spoke to Suzaan Heyns about her business and the pinnacle points in her career.
Suzaan Heyns realised the value of a business partner after a couple of years in fashion. This she elaborated recently in Johannesburg at the Business of Design Seminar. The seminars are a meet-up for various design businesses from architecture, fashion to interiors and launched last year.
Heyns has established a brand with an avant-garde DNA and her passion for sculpting gives it a unique expression. But in all this art, it is important to sell your product, which is why she values her business partner Moira Jensen, who sobers her up to the commercial part of design.
“I really don’t care about VAT, I really care about sequins at [the] moment but she [Jensen] forces me to know. It’s nice to have a buffer and to do things properly because if I don’t do the commercial things, then I don’t get to do the crazy sculptures that don’t necessarily sell. So she balances me out,” said Heyns.
Reflecting back to the collaboration she had with PPC, it had enormous impact on her brand. The cement featured on the runway with models wearing sculptures and received positive publicity, which naturally was pleasing to PPC. It is how the sponsorship extended to the designing of her store Melrose Arch.
“Sponsorship is important, especially for a young brand and small company [so] that you have longevity,” adds Heyns.
She’s been in fashion for a decade now and part of her concern is the market and how it needs to be educated and understand that South African designers are good and do produce quality products.
Growing too rapidly is what she’s not keen on as she wants to make a promise and deliver, so she chooses slow growth and well-calculated movements, which is why only now an atelier is in progress and it will be one space that consolidates every aspect of her brand, from production to retail.
Booyzen, the MD of SA Fashion Week conducted the interview in a very conversational manner. She included the audience and raised a concern of how interior design seems to grow far rapidly than fashion in SA. And it is clearly a thriving and lucrative business compared to the other.
From Maira Koutsodakis, CEO of Group Life Companies mentioned that interiors are driven by tourism, which is a big market in SA.
Dion Chang of Flux Trends added:
“There’s a difference between time scales and competition between mass fast fashion. So fashion designers are competing in those kind of timelines – very disposable product in terms of clothing. I think interior designers have more luxury of having a slower timeline. Going back, I think the egos in fashion are bigger as well.”
South African designers do not advertise online or in glossy magazines like most international brands. Heyns notes the expense of advertising, and the cost is understandable because it is key revenue for magazines. Heyns would rather use the cost to purchase great fabric.
“We are not backed by LVMH, we are backed by ourselves. We are two girls running a business… So we do not have that level of cash influx.”
But the way she conducts her work is how she reconciles not affording this type of marketing. So the sharp designs and expansive collections are what ends up giving her a page in glossy magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire as well as newspapers.
Social media for the designer is not centred by celebrity shots but more of in-depth studio pictures and the artistry inside, this opens another side of her business to the public. She also does big internship programmes, where she trains extensively.
“If we grow the industry it’s going to help everybody so we have about four to five interns for between three months to a year.”
She also does things the other way around; she’s the one that makes coffee for the students while they concentrate on patterns – very uncommon.
In all the challenges and creating ways to grow her business, she is still having fun and emphasises the importance of integrity.
“Design is a fun thing to be able to do everyday… Every single collection has different inspiration and I firmly believe that fashion should not inspire fashion, everything around should feed into that.”