18 Sep Levi’s Pioneer Nation | An Interview with Catherine Ohlson De Fine
Catherine Ohlson De Fine is the founder of the popular monthly lifestyle market, the Collective. The idea to start the market arose out of the need for more affordable spaces for young South African designers to showcase and sell their work. Catherine is one of the speakers at the upcoming Levi’s Pioneer Nation, a festival to inspire and educate young South African entrepreneurs to make money doing what they are passionate about.
Can you tell us more about your journey leading up to where you are today?
Over the years I came to recognise that I had the ability to organise and generally, ‘get things done’. This naturally led me to gravitate towards project management-based opportunities starting with assisting at the Joburg Art Fairs, moving to becoming a production manager at the inaugural Food Wine Design Fair and later becoming the manager at the Neighbourgoods Market while I continued to manage some buildings in Braamfontein with the Play Braamfontein team. After a while my nature of ‘cannot not lead’ pushed me to make a decision to take a risk and start my own business which sprung from a thorough knowledge in a particular industry as well as recognising an opportunity in a new marketplace in Johannesburg.
How did you come up with the idea to begin Collective?
Following from the previous question I had noticed that more and more young local designers needed a platform to showcase their products and they weren’t able to afford the full outlay of a rental space as well as the staff and operating expenses that come with that commitment. I also noticed that there wasn’t a dedicated market in Joburg that focused solely on affordable design items.
Why did you choose Kramerville as the location?
I wanted a location that was accessible to a different audience that has some fears of the inner city. I was also trying to attract a high end audience and Kramerville is established in offering high end design items to that audience. The building owner that I approached at the time was incredibly positive and supportive and offered a space with a spectacular view of Joburg which most of our visitors didn’t know existed.
Growing up, did you ever imagine yourself doing this line of work?
Growing up I had no idea what I would become and I quite honestly felt unguided and only really started to get a sense of what I was capable of once I had finished university.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
I have a passion for Joburg and showing everyone how wonderful our fast paced and hard city can be. There has always been an amazing underbelly of cool things going on but they are often hard to tap into and unless you create the city you want to live in, you’ll always be longing for the greener grass of coastal or international cities. So, I love doing great things for Joburgers and I love being able to answer to myself if things aren’t going the way they should.
What would you say it is about Collective that keeps Joburgers coming back for more? What is it about this initiative that drives you?
Joburgers are always looking for something new to do. Collective only operates once a month so that we can build up to it and in order to not compete with all the other events that take place every weekend.
What was the most challenging part of the process of starting up Collective? Please share some of your learnings so far.
The most challenging parts are doing most of the administrative and financial work myself. I have a great team on the day but learning how to manage your costs with a business that is limited by space and vendors is very tricky and forces you to come up with new ways of generating income.
Preparing for Pioneer Nation must be exciting. What are you most looking forward to at the festival?
I’m looking forward to hearing how my fellow speakers came to find themselves in their businesses and I’m looking forward to the questions that the participants may have. South Africa and Africa generally has so much potential so it’s such an exciting place to start a business because once you’ve decided to do it and actually start doing it, it’s almost a sure thing that it’ll be a success.
How do you think the Pioneer Nation will help equip young creative entrepreneurs?
I think the platform with answer honest questions and show the younger entrepreneurs that you don’t necessarily need to be qualified in a professional field to make it but you just need drive, determination and hard work and time.
What advice do you have for passionate young South Africans who are just starting out?
I would say that you just need to push through the hard parts and the rewards follow shortly and to put those rewards into perspective – what is it that they really want personally? Is it lots of money or is it flexible time and a love for what they do?
What skills are essential for what you do?
Communicating effectively, great organisational skills and an ability to multitask under pressure, adaptability, a general ‘can-do,’ positive outlook and vision.
What can consumers look forward to from Collective? Do you have any other plans going forward?
We are always looking into ways to change the business and we recently just moved venues and partnered with some food trucks in order to diversify the offering and overall look and feel and we’re so happy we took that leap. So from here you keep putting yourself into it and watch to see how the public react and then start on the next big idea.
This interview is part of a collaboration between us at 10and5 and the Umuzi Photo Club’s #P50 students, who interviewed and photographed a selection of creatives who will be representing at the upcoming Levi’s Pioneer Nation Festival.