From an experiment in a garage to an international brand name… Elaine van der Westhuizen and hubby, Werner, are taking the fashion world by storm with their beautiful leather handbags.
“Can you believe it, a man sees the potential in handbags as a business venture! Something I never thought of. Well, his idea and both our backgrounds have brought us to a place we both love and we are going to do so much more,” says Elaine of their Katy Kruger leather handbag range that has women (and men) drooling all over.
And it all started in their garage at home in Hartbeespoort only two years ago! “Werner came home one day and said he had seen a stall with handbags and he couldn’t believe how women flocked to the stall. So, why couldn’t we do it?”
Elaine, who studied marketing and worked for large corporations, and Werner, with a business development background, decided to design and have bags made. “However, we had no control over the quality and realised we would have to do it ourselves. We had no knowledge of the production of leather products but we worked hard to learn everything we could. We found seamstresses, I designed the bags and we started in our garage. I started marketing the bags and to my surprise the demand was such that we had to employ more seamstresses and a leather smith. And the more the feedback on the bags, the more we wanted to do. It was unexpected and amazing. We decided to go full-out, grab the bull by the horns, so to speak…
Elaine resigned her full-time job and threw herself wholeheartedly into the business.
“When we started the brand, it was only with a handful of designs but as we got feedback from the public, we started to experiment with new designs.
“Progress breeds progress and that’s exactly what happened with thie business. As the production team grew, they started getting involved with adding improvements to the current designs and developing new exciting designs.
“I always knew I would one day do my own thing but never thought handbags would be it.”
“We believe in involving the team in the development of the company and the brand. It is a family business. If you work at Katy Kruger, you become part of the family. That is very important to us.”
In just two years, they have seen tremendous growth. “Today we have over 40 employees, manufacture more than 50 bags per day and supply more than 40 retailers across the country. We are actually bursting at the seams and have recently acquired investors who have joined the team.”
The brand is now also exported to Germany, Portugal, Dubai and Namibia, with more countries to follow soon.
And it is not just handbags anymore. They are supplying big corporate businesses with laptop bags and their travel bags, amongst other things, are a big hit.
“We are also busy with an exciting new range that we are launching this month and we are also thinking shoes!
The couple’s two children Caitlin (4) and three-month-old Lillian, are as much part of the business as anyone else. “They are growing up in the office. The brand was named after Caitlin who we call Katy. The ‘Kruger’ just sounded good with it. At three months, Lillian has attended more business meetings than most business people,” Elaine laughs.
“Katy was the inspiration for the bags and the shoe range will be Lillian’s.”
They are both workaholics. “But we are doing it for our children. We are family people. We have the same passion for the business and the challenges and it gives us joy.”
Did they expect the success of the brand? “Never, I always knew I would one day do my own thing but never thought handbags would be it. And the public’s response and the resulting success was just wow! I think the secret is that we really love what we do and we go full-out. We are living our dream.”