Stitch And Steel is a South African brand led by two lovely business partners Elaine Mabiletsa and Linda Gale. Historically they focused on clothes and were known for their signature crop-top top but now they are changing the fashion accessories game with their unique luxury watches. Fun Fact our very first Blog in July 2016 was on Stitch & Steel clothing, we’ve been fans from afar for a while. So we were thrilled when we got the opportunity to interview them and also own a watch from their brand :). Check out our first blog to see the fashion.
Grab some tea, relax and read about their entrepreneurship journey. This is a very insightful interview from Boss Ladies making major moves.
LZ = Lara + Zuri
SS = Stitch & Steel
LZ : Let’s Start from the very beginning , Stitch & Steel. Interesting Name – We like it. How did you come up with the name?
SS : We actually got the name from Linda’s brother in law. He had originally suggested the name for the clothing company but when we decided to branch off into watches we both agreed that it was the perfect name for a watch brand too, hence it stuck!
LZ : Perfect! Why did you get into the fashion business and what has been your experience so far?
SS : We’ve both always been fashionista’s and entrepreneurs at heart. Linda was the first to take the leap into the fashion business after having started a family. She wanted to devote more time to raising her kids but couldn’t bring herself to be a housewife, so decided that the best way to be the best mom she can and still pursue her passion would be to start a clothing business. I had always wanted to be in business, but also had a huge interest and curiosity in the financial industry. As such, I opted to pursue a career wholeheartedly in finance. After almost 10 in corporate, the entrepreneur in me just couldn’t sit still. It was at this point that Linda and I decided to partner in the watch business and it has been a great journey so far and we look to a lifetime of sharing our love for fashion and all this beautiful with our Stitch and Steel family of clients.
LZ : Inspiring. If you met a young lady who wanted to get into the fashion business, what 3 tips would you give her?
SS : Firstly, take the time to make sure that the items you share with the world, are exactly the way you want them to be. You never want to look at an item you created and wish you had given it more time to perfect it into what you wanted it to be. Secondly, take time to learn about the the business of fashion. Thirdly, surround yourself with the people who will be your supporters and constructive critics. Relationships are huge in this industry and so is the energy around you.
LZ : Who has been your greatest inspiration ?
SS: We don’t have a particular individual/brand that has been our greatest inspiration, but a few. On a more personal inspiration side, for me (Elaine), Michelle Obama. She inspired me to have the courage to try more than I was doing and go for my dreams. Then there’s Zelda Wynn Valdes of course – the first African-American to own a boutique – in the 1940’s and a female might I add – and designed the iconic PlayBoy bunny costume. Who knew what could be achieved with more effort and perseverance!
Linda- I have always admired designers in general, creating something from scratch and making it into a wearable beautiful item from clothing to accessories. A designer whom has personally inspired me most has been Vivienne Westwood for her bold and strong creations and her fearlessness of using color and mix mediums within her designs. They are wearable works of art!
LZ : People often say the entrepreneurial journey is lonely and filled with highs and lows. Do you agree? What motivates you?
SS: Fully agree! There are always challenges when dealing with other people – that’s a truth of life we can never get away from. One thing we must say we are grateful for is that despite the challenges, we remain united as partners and can be honest with each other no matter what. That was a condition before going into business together. The challenges we often face are dealing with service providers and previously, staff. Our motivation is our belief in our brand and the products we put out into the world. Those are all parts of who we are and when we see the final outputs, and better yet, the reception of our watches, that makes it all worthwhile. And hopefully one day we’ll be traveling the world and see them in several shop windows too.
LZ : We think that day of you traveling the world and seeing your watches in different shops around the world, is coming sooner than you think. Your watches are amazing!! As an African business, are there any peculiar challenges Stitch & Steel has experienced and how did you overcome it?
SS: There is a limited number of manufacturers within South Africa particularly in the watch industry, so having to source components was an intensive research project. We ultimately found the suppliers we could use but they were all international suppliers. Having just founded the watch business, we didn’t have the funds to travel abroad and ensure that the manufacturing of the designs was exactly as per the specifications we documented. A lot of our interaction has had to be via email and messaging. The challenge in that is that sometimes the images or the colours are not quite originally envisaged. This results in additional time spent on product delivery and costs of getting to the perfect end product. It has taught us a lot of patience but has also taught us a lot about what it truly takes to achieve our goals.
LZ : To what do you most attribute Stitch & Steel’s success? What would you say are the five key elements to running a successful business?
SS : The sheer drive to achieve our shared dream of creating a globally recognized and successful African watch brand! Hard work, determination, honesty with oneself, passion and diligence. In no particular order 🙂
LZ : When you are not working, what is your favorite thing to do to unwind?
SS : Spending time with our families.
LZ : What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
SS : Being able to sign on a young and very creative local female designer to help translate our vision into the watch images.
LZ : That’s awesome that you were able to sign on local talent – yay to girl power! Excluding your company, what company or business do you admire the most and why?
SS : Gosh, there are a few we admire for various reasons. It would definitely be Daniel Wellington – for being able to redefine watches as not just timepieces but also a style statement.
LZ : As I mentioned in the introduction , Stitch and Steel was focused on clothes before and now have transitioned into the luxury watch market. What inspired that change? And what differences have you experienced in this category of fashion compared to the clothing?
SS : Clothing has always been fun and trendy and something that allowed creativity expression. As mentioned above, it was something that Linda was doing while also juggling the everyday pressures of being a mom. As the kids grew, so too did her desire to create a bigger brand and create – at this point Stitch & Steel had also been featured in the SA Fashion Week and had the signature crop-top. Having since become friends, we played around with the idea of not only becoming business partners (Elaine was contemplating entering the fashion business) but also about where to take the brand to from where it already was. We knew we still wanted it to be in the wearable fashion space but also realised that the African clothing industry was becoming saturated – and just like that accessories became the next great idea! With clothing there’s complete control by us, with the watches, there’s a lot more dependency from others and work that goes into creating it – from thought to finish.
(Lots have happened within this time, and we get many requests from our clients for our clothing, and we have made the decision to release a small capsule collection of clothing and t-shirts, which will feature prints that will compliment our watch brand, all of these prints will be our own individually designed prints, copyrighted to the Stitch&Steel brand, and we are hoping to launch this for the start of our South-African spring season)
LZ : That is amazing and so smart regarding making your own designed prints and it complimenting your watch brand – we can’t wait. What has been the response to the watches so far? Any surprises?
SS : They have been very well received! It’s been absolutely incredible the reception we receive. Not just in SA but globally through our social media and website. And thank you for your appreciation of our watches, the support that’s what makes this journey all the better.
LZ : You are welcome. I know you are working on a new collection, can you tell us about it? What can we expect? What inspired the collection?
SS : The new range was inspired by the African Flora and Ndebele print. It also boasts both big and small dials as well as leather and mesh strap options. We’ve even included a couple of men’s watches! We really went all out in making sure we cater to most styles and interests with this range. You can check it out on our website – we’ve literally just launched it there!
LZ : Yay, to including men’s watches – would definitely make great gift for guys. Where would you like to see Stitch and Steel in the next 5 years?
SS : We would like to see it become an internationally acclaimed and recognized timepiece available for sale in stores globally.
LZ : Knowing that you are based in South Africa, can you please share with us 3 places we must visit in South Africa?
SS :Yes of course – Johannesburg, definitely – the home of Stitch & Steel and there’s a lot of historical activities and has a generally great buzz. Cape Town and the surrounding area – home to some of the world’s best wine farms and phenomenal scenery along the garden route; and Mpumalanga – one of the best landscapes and views of mother nature at her best.
LZ : Thank you very much for insights and your time. Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview for our readers.
SS : Thank you for your time and continued support of Stitch and Steel. We hope that we’ll be seeing you all on our social media pages and thank you for taking the time to read about us!
LZ : You are welcome! It truly was a pleasure to meet and learn more about the Stitch & Steel Story. We love their watches and their positive energy. Please follow them on instagram @stitchandsteel and shop their watches on their website https://www.stitchandsteel.com/. Please when you shop, in the reference area mention you were referred by Lara + Zuri, we would really appreciate it :). Hope you enjoyed the interview, let us know.
Lara + Zuri