Selfi founder Celeste Arendse marries the commercial with the creative

Celeste Arendse’s mother runs a buzzing CMT production in the heart of industrial Maitland, Cape Town, servicing major South African fashion retailers. So while the fantasy of fashion has lured many starry eyes into the design industry, from her very beginnings as a fashion designer Celeste has been exposed to the whirring machines, long days and labour that goes into the manufacturing of the garments that in another world grace the runways. This has allowed Celeste to marry the commercial with the creative with her own brand, Selfi, producing exciting shows and shoots but always keeping her customer in mind designing cuts and creations that sell. For our Creative Women series, we recently visited her in studio and spent (way too much) time chatting about everything from imports, to current trends to looking local for sparks of inspiration. She’s excited about what she does, and it’s infectious.

Celeste Arendse

How have you come to be where you are? Please let us know about your journey so far.

I completed my studies in fashion design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2007 and thereafter worked for Malcolm Kluk and CGDT where I was a studio manger. I did everything from delegating production, to making patterns, to fabric sourcing, to sample cutting. I started developing Selfi in 2009. In that year I did a lot of exploring and also entered competitions like ELLE New Talent where I was a finalist. I officially launched my brand in stores in 2010. I approached independent stores that shared the same market. I managed to supply more independent stores and eventually exported to a store in Zurich and an online store in New York. I started showcasing my brand on the ramp in 2011 at Design Indaba and have exhibited and showcased with Design Indaba for approximately 3 years. In 2012 and 2014 I started launching my collections at Mercedes Benz fashion weeks, this has created a lot of awareness for my brand.

What has shaped your design aesthetic?

Paying attention to my customer has helped shaped my aesthetic a lot. Recognizing what women want, being sensitive to what makes them feel good and areas they don’t necessarily feel confident showing. I’ve always had a strong desire to create something unique and somehow nostalgic that could really add value to the everyday mood of the women who wear my clothing. I don’t really believe that clothes define you, your character does, but I feel it adds toward how you wish to be perceived in the world and how you want to feel. In that sense what has shaped my design aesthetic would be listening to what women want and finding the middle ground by creating attire that represents a form of escapism and nostalgia.

SELFI

Celeste Arendse - SELFI

What were your motivations behind starting your own fashion label and how has your business grown since?

Creating is my language, my form of communication and how I solidify what I like and how I feeI in this world. I started Selfi because I believed there were a group of women who are young professionals, who work in creative fields and in corporate fields who weren’t being catered for. I wanted to create clothes that would fit into their everyday lifestyles. Where their work wear could merge into their social environments. I really wanted to push creativity to find the balance between comfort, quality and nostalgia. In that sense Selfi is my inner child expressing itself through form, print and shape, and in whichever medium I wish to convey that expression. I feel that women need to recognize their inner power more and not shy away from their intelligence and their ability to be leading creatives or business women in society. That has also become more of my motivation behind my brand. To create clothing for women who recognize their power and have defined their roles in society.

What are some of the things starting your own business has taught you?

You need to be patient and focus on your “creative zone”. You can’t do everything. Focus on what you’re good at and enjoy most. And look at how what you do can change the society you live in. How can you add value? This is fundamental. I’ve learnt not to be fixated on what other brands are doing but rather to let their success inspire me. Because we are all in this together. We represent South Africa as a nation so if someone else wins it creates a pathway for another. I’ve learnt that it’s not just about me and the brand and how pretty everything looks, but what it can do for the people involved, how they grow as individuals, and with that growth how they will impact their environments at home. We need to think bigger than profit but think more about what the world will be like in a couple of years, and how we can influence that by our daily endeavors.

SELFI

SELFI

What have been some of the highlights along the way? For you as a designer and for the brand.

Highlights are always seeing women wear my brand and hearing about how they feel whilst wearing it. Also showcasing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and Design Indaba always creates a lot of media exposure, I suppose that’s a highlight. Incorporating new design elements within the brand is always exciting.

Is there a story behind the name?

When I studied fashion I was really intrigued by the surrealist art movement in the 1920s. I was really attracted to their approach to art and their non-conformity towards the art movement before them. The irrational, child-like approach to their work and their desire to unlock their subconscious mind were all things that evoked a lot of curiosity in me. I felt their teqniques would allow me to design from a fresher and a more authentic place. The name was then created from the word self and Selfi is the way in which I tap into my inner child by playing with form, and print. So it has nothing to do with the word “selfie”.

SELFI

SELFI

What have been some of the challenges or on the other hand the perks of working in the South African fashion industry?

Our industry really lacks variety of fabrics. This has always been a challenge for me. Cape Town is so small that if you produced a style in printed fabric most  likely another designer would have also used the exact same print. So I seldom used printed fabric and started to design and print my own fabric at Imaterial last year.  This has also given me a competitive advantage. Another challenge would be not being able to find more concept stores locally. This has forced me to look abroad more to find stockists. A perk about being a designer in South Africa is that the world is really interested in what we are doing and we need to take full advantage of this, by really pushing creativity and aiming to think for ourselves more. Looking at the variety and richness we have and expressing this in our work more.

How do you find a balance between creativity and commercial appeal?

With each collection I’ve developed a formula where I break each look down into groups to where my customer would wear each look too, and how it will fit into her wardrobe. In this way I’m able to determine the sellability of each style based on how it will fit into her lifestyle. The creative element comes into play with print and creating the silhouette.

SELFI

SELFI

Where does the idea for a collection start for you?

I’ve grown to use more local elements for inspiration. May it be an old lady walking down the streets of Woodstock or reading about various art movements, or listening to a new artist. Driving a lot I’ve grown to take a lot of inspiration from the streets.

Please tell us about your latest collection…

With my latest collection I was really intrigued by Chinese stores and the variety of things you can find there. The use of primary colours in the products and children’s toys I collected while designing the collection. I really wanted to create a whimsical playground with this collection. Even though it looks like a kid at a carnival when each piece is taken apart the women buying it will be able to wear and define it in her own way.

SELFI

What do you want Selfi to be known for?

I want Selfi to be known for pushing boundaries creatively. I want it to be known for comfort and quality and how whenever women wear the clothing they feel as though they can take on what they need to in the world, whereever they may be. I want it to be known as a brand that stands for uplifting people and not just to be a fashion brand but to be active in changing the face of society one step at a time. This I mean in terms of the people involved in the making of the products. When value is instilled in people the products will resonate with something special. As entrepreneurs we have the power to add value to the people who make our products as they are usually in the lower income bracket.

Celeste Arendse - SELFI

SELFI

Who are some of the creative women you admire?

My mother. She has created a business that has facilitated my growth and has taught me to value the people who work for you. Bjork, my first muse. She has taught me the beauty of striving to do things differently. Erykah Badu has taught me how influential women can be. Coco Chanel has given me confidence to believe that a woman can be a pioneer of a leading fashion brand that can exist for decades.

What’s next for you?

To grow within my craft by challenging my thinking, to create stronger collections. To export my brand to more stores internationally. To collaborate with others. To showcase internationally. To eventually have a concept store locally. To constantly strive to raise the vibration creatively.

www.selfi.co.za

Celeste Arendse - SELFI

SELFI

SELFI

SELFI

Celeste Arendse - SELFI

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