Adrian Furstenburg is an exciting young Branson Centre entrepreneur from Johannesburg, who over the last six years has built his fashion and handbag company, Adrian Furstenburg Fashion, into a world-class, global fashion brand.
Today we’re sharing the story behind his business success, his lessons learnt with the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, South Africa, and his advice for up-and-coming business owners in South Africa.
Tell us about how your business started, and about your entrepreneurial journey so far.
I was involved in a car accident in 2006 – my final year of Textile Design and Technology study. The accident meant that I was unable to do all of the practical silk-screen printing projects that were necessary for my studies, so I instead opted to do a weaving project. After weeks of intense work, I created a piece of cloth that I just knew had to just be part of something beautiful – I then had four handbags made with the piece. It was then that I discovered my passion for handbags.
I launched my first collection of bags in 2009 and although I was very proud of that achievement, with very little business acumen and entrepreneurial experience, my first range was nothing short of disastrous.
In 2013 and 2015 I did courses at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, which really changed everything. My Branson Centre learnings were incredibly important for both personal and professional growth and I began working ‘on’ my business, instead of just working ‘in’ my business.
I now have a clear understanding of where I was when I started my business, a clear grasp of where I am at this exact moment, and am the clearest I’ve ever been on where I would want my brand to be in the future.
How has the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship helped you?
Gosh, the Branson Centre has the perfect balance with information and experience. Industry experts conveyed the exact information I needed to get to the next level.
My biggest accolade to the Centre is that they take you from exactly where you are and equip you with what you need to get where you want to be. The most important lesson I learnt from the Branson Centre was to know your customer. We often get so carried away with what we want or what we think is best, that we can stand in the way of building a truly great business.
What advice do you have about building a brand you're passionate about?
It is important to know what a brand means to you personally, as it is much more than just a product or a service. Therefore when you truly know who and what you are, then put yourself into your client’s shoes – what would they like to see, to feel, to recognise and affiliate themselves with. Connect the dots between the two and build a brand that both you and your client can identify with and support.
My passion has meant that my business, based in Johannesburg, has served clients from here to Cape Town, from New York to Paris – all with beautifully manufactured and bespoke handbags.
The fashion experience that I have gained in Paris and London has driven me to take the ‘designer handbag experience’ back to its truest form – a service that captures unique needs and details in a final product that not only looks amazing, but is of the highest quality and serves the client’s needs and wants.
How does your business give back to the local community, and why is this an important part of your business planning?
I only employ local artisans for the manufacturing of my bags, as well as local producers for the printing of the lining, and the sourcing of the leathers. I believe that employing workers from the local community is vital for business success as well as the training and development of workers in my area.
Where can handbag lovers buy your bags?
Since my return to South African soil last year, I have been working hard to have the company’s first retail collection ready for August. It will be a small collection (100 bags) and will be available for online sales. Amidst all of this excitement, I’ve been securing meetings in both Paris and New York for international distribution, as well as having talks with local retailers, who will soon stock the Adrian Furstenburg brand.
What’s next for Adrian Furstenburg?
I am very proud to share that I was one of 40 finalists at the Independent Handbag Designer Awards this year. I was also won the Guess® ‘All About The Logo’ award. I am incredibly proud of these achievements – and they have really reinforced for me that I have the capability and capacity to continue to take my brand outside South African borders.
I am passionate about producing product ranges that are internationally-recognised for beauty, quality and practicality. My next big challenge is to produce a line of handbags for an airline – I often dream about it will be like to one day see flight attendants walk through an airport terminal with my bags on their arms – it will make me the happiest designer alive.
I’d love you to join me on my journey as I work hard on myself and evolve as a man, a partner, a friend and an entrepreneur.