Dokter and Misses are Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin; Self-Starters, product/furniture designers and manufacturers, and husband and wife. Together they design and produce cutting-edge furniture, lighting, inventive interior accessories, and ceramics. The first Dokter and Misses space opened ahead of the curve at 44 Stanley back in 2007. Six years on and they’ve expanded to a workshop and showroom, CO-OP, in Braamfontein, have exhibited internationally as part of Southern Guild, and have been featured in prestigious publications the likes of Wallpaper* magazine. All while still running the successful Stanley store.
We asked one half of the duo, Katy, to let us in on what it takes to run your own design business.
How, why and when did you start Dokter and Misses?
In 2007 I came home after a year working at a design and branding company in New York. Adriaan was working for Gregor Jenkin and had started developing some lights that were getting some attention. While I was away we had begun developing graphics for a range of vests and throwing around the idea of starting something of our own. The seed had been planted, we both felt like we wanted to make things. The local product design industry was practically non-existant, so we saw the gap but at the same time had to create our own retail platform. Which we did, in a 16 square meter space at 44 Stanley Avenue.
What are your roles within the company? Who does what?
We both design – sometimes together, sometimes independently. Adriaan refines all the products and runs manufacture. I deal with retail and our identity.
Do you identify more with the label ‘artist’ or ‘entrepreneur’?
Definitely artist, but after time you realise that it’s really important to identify with the entrepreneur role, especially once you start employing people, and you realise that you want this to work for the rest of your life.
Dokter and Misses has become a firmly established name in design circles. How do you market yourselves?
Over the years we relied heavily on word of mouth and press for marketing. The way we see it is that if we can make products that people want to talk about we will get the right kind of exposure, for free. This approach also has it’s downfall – we need to make sure that the right people see our work and at times I’ve been so busy thinking about the next project that products get overlooked. Since marketing is my job I’m focusing a lot more on it now, taking more time to shoot products and get them out more frequently. It’s a full time job, finding.
Do you feel you have total creative freedom or are there certain boundaries and a responsibility to stay true to the Dokter and Misses aesthetic?
I think we do, but there are often times that something just doesn’t feel like “us” and we try not to go there. Rather than staying true to an aesthetic it’s more about saying true to how we feel about the pieces we produce, and why they embody what we think we’re about.
How do you keep ideas fresh and inspired over the years?
Always wanting to make something that doesn’t exist, trying out a new production method or discovering a new material. We’ve also been lucky enough to have interesting clients who bring us diverse briefs. Because we also do custom work there is this open endedness to what we offer. I think it’s probably because we both have an aversion to rules and it’s our attempt to never say never. Sometimes being so flexible isn’t the best in terms of the bottom line because you’re dealing with unknowns and the risk that one underestimates how much work something new can be. But that said, new is exciting, and rather that than to die of boredom.
Do you find the South African furniture manufacture/product design market to be competitive?
I think there is healthy competition in the local industry because it’s still small and quite diverse, each designer with their own identity and specialty – when people start copying that’s when it becomes unhealthy. No one really offers the same thing. Our biggest competition right now is low cost, badly made international imports and the perception that what we do should cost the same.
A few years back you opened a store with David West in Long Street, Cape Town. Any plans to re-open in Cape Town or launch in other local or international cities?
It was fun to be in Cape Town and we had a great response from it – we also learned a lot about managing from a distance. We decided to put our all into our showroom in Braamfontein and then focus on personal sales rather than destination sales. We still sell and deliver product directly to clients all over the country and feel that we don’t really need to open branches all over the world anymore. The internet will be our next outlet.
We met when we took part in a few of their collaborative design shows in Cape Town when we’d just started out. In 2009 we needed a workshop space and they needed a presence in Johannesburg so we opened CO-OP together. It’s quite astonishing how Braamfontein has changed since then, the only way to get clients to the space was to have launch after launch, constantly changing each month. It was a lot of work.And then there was the Neighbourgoods market.After that we were able to take on a less frantic presence and became more of an Art and Design showroom. This August the whole space will become the Dokter and Misses showroom, so it’s the end of an era, but it feels like it’s right, especially since so much has changed and both parties have been growing over the years.
What would your one piece of advice be for young designers looking to start their own business?
You’re going to have to get your hands dirty.