Inga Gubeka is the designer behind the brand INDALO DESIGNS. Since inception in 2013 there has been a buzz around his wooden bags and accessories, and in 2016 he is still causing a stir in the fashion industry. He talks to us about design and being the only and first ever African to have a single malt scotch whisky named after him by Glenfiddich. After this interview was conducted, Forbes Africa released its 2016 30under30 list. Inga Gubeka was one of them.
Inga on creativity and commerce, social media and collaborations
It is pretty interesting that you design and make your bags from wood, what was the idea behind this?
The idea came about when I was prototyping a piece of furniture, I liked the shape it took and I said to myself “hey, this could potentially be something”. It was an oval shape, so I kept on playing around with it and its versatility and adding buckles and straps, from there I developed the actual product. For the last past years I kept improving and refining and now it has gotten to were I want it to be.
One can almost assume that you set the pace for your brand, as it is made from wood, does global trend influence your design direction in any way?
I would say global trends influences the industry as a whole. My bags does not go with the trend, it is very classic. In 10 years you will still want to buy that piece. So you aren’t just buying a bag, you are buying a piece of art which happens to be functional.
Take us through your design process, from sketching to finished products. How long does it take to produce a collection?
It really depends, the bags in the store right now is from my most recent collection and it is only a month old. It took me about three months to finish the collection. I spent about a month conceptualising and then the rest of the time was spent on developing, sourcing and refining. The buckles and design details were developed from scratch.
How has the market responded to your design since inception? And knowing that you produce locally?
Quite frankly, people really love Indalo products, they appreciate the wood and innovation. But the South African market isn’t as fast as the pace of the global fashion market. My products are considered very fashion forward at the moment. At first the South African market was a bit skeptical but with time it received it well. Although lots of online purchases come from overseas, like Europe, America and Canada. Locally, there is the struggle between buying local versus globally recognised brands.
How have you balanced creativity and commerce?
Jezz, its always being the hardest thing quite frankly. When you design it is based on your guts and instincts and sometimes you don’t know how the market will respond to it. But this has always been the most difficult thing as I don’t have a commercial background but I have a design background. At the end of the day I am an entrepreneur and that means selling, I design and marry the two. I am quite lucky as my products sell themselves so there is less convincing to do, it is either a “wow, I like this” or “no, this isn’t for me”.
What is the ideal shopping experience you want your customers to have when they walk into the store?
I want them to have the Indalo experience, like nature. They should feel the nature and aesthetics of the store, which is very minimalistic. It has touches of wood, plain whites and a natural feel which makes you feel at ease. The store doesn’t provide you a shopping experience rather a gallery experience, like a showcase. I want Indalo customers to feel like they are at an art gallery and they are taking an art piece home.
In these times when social media is shaping the way consumers interact with brands, how have you tapped into that? Any favourites?
Digital marketing and online presence is the big thing now, you can reach masses of people using one or multiple platforms like facebook, twitter and instagram, it depends on what works for you as a brand. In our case we use instagram to create appeal, it is nicer to brand there. We also use facebook for communication and to pass long information. Twitter not so much as it doesn’t work well for us as a brand, so its just Facebook and instagram.
What tips would you give to a designer trying to garner a healthy social media following?
I will say be consistent in your tone, mind how you engage with your audience on social media. Keep it fresh, updated and avoid lousy content. But always be consistent.
There is a saying ‘To go fast you go alone, to go far you go together’, this basically creates the idea of collaborations. And you have in the past collaborated with other designers and influencers, how has these collaborations impacted your brand?
They really helped with brand marketing and creating awareness locally and abroad. Collaborations helps you put your name out there and draw media attention and this converts to revenue at the end of the day, which is good.
What has been the highlights of your career so far?
Jezz, there is quite a few. Being contacted by Candice Swanepoel’s people requesting a bag from us. At first I was like ‘who is Candice Swanepoel?’, cos I didn’t know who she is and then I googled her and was like ‘wow, thats amazing’. And at a fashion week when Alek Wek spotted a bag from one of the ladies wearing it, she said she liked the bag and wanted it immediately, she asked the lady if she could sell it to her right there and where she could find it. One of the biggest one was being listed top 200 young South Africans by Mail and Guardian, which was great, being listed on Forbes USA 2015 as one of the top five made in Africa accessory brands to know. And when Glenfiddich named a single malt scotch whisky after my name, that was a humbling experience as I am the only African to ever have a bottle of whiskey named after.
What should we expect in the nearest future?
We are making plans on invading the international markets. So there will be lots of travels, lots of exhibitions by the end of the year and beginning of next. I have being invited to some fashion shows and exhibitions, so focusing on that and more collaborations like Glenfiddich and other big brands that we have things in the pipe line.
Choose one: Online or Physical store?
I like online store more, its very simple and easy to manage but hard to market. It is also great for our global followers turned customers who aren’t close to the stores that we are stocked in their city.
Finally, what words of advise do you have for an aspiring designer that is on the path of this journey?
I would say follow your passion, that is key. Passion keeps you going even before you start converting to revenue. You must be passion driven rather than money driven, the latter creates a problem as this industry is very hard and tough. You need to balance designing versus selling versus running a business. And it is common knowledge that creatives are quite absent minded and have a mind of their own. It is not easy to marry creativity and commerce but if you succeed at this, it propels you to go further and beyond. Button line is passion, follow that and money will come.
I hope you found this interview insightful as much as I do. Get yourself an INDALO piece online at http://indalodecor.com or 70 Juta street, Braamfontein Johannesburg. Follow Indalo on Facebook and Instagram