Founder and Creative Director of Inga Atelier Collections, Inga Gubeka fuses technology with leather accessories. His collection includes backpacks, clutches, tote and laptop bags which are all manufactured in the heart of Johannesburg.
His many accolades include making the Forbes (USA) Top 5 accessories designers in Africa, Forbes Africa 30under30 in 2016, GQ game changers also in 2016, overall winner for the Glenfiddich Maverick campaign 2015, being the first African to have a single malt whiskey named after, Mail & Guardian’s top 200 young South Africans in 2015, World Design’s capital’s “Top 10 designers in South Africa” and Design Indaba MBOISA 2017 nominee.
We spoke to Inga about his journey as an entrepreneur, and he filled us in on the many challenges that he has been faced with:
Tell us about Inga Atelier, where did the idea come from?
Inga Atelier is a luxury leather goods brand. The idea came about two years ago after seeing a gap in the market for luxury leather goods. The market goes for your Gucci and Versace so that means there is a gap in the market for locally made leather goods brands. So that’s where the idea came about.
And how were you able to fund your business?
Actually it was financed by my wife and a couple of friends of mine; I was fortunate to have some friends with deep pockets basically.
Was it something expensive to get off the ground?
It depends what expensive means to you, in my case, it was just a matter of setting up the studio and sourcing leather, which is quite expensive. I probably spent a little over three thousand to set it up, so not too bad – but what made it a bit more expensive was the retail end of things because we needed a spot, after I designed the stuff [we needed a place] where we can retail the stuff.
How long did it take for you to start making money?
It didn’t take us long, we started making money within the first four months but as one can imagine the debts and the overheads that we had accumulated from product development, and starting out and so forth; I needed to pay all that money back.
Building a business from scretch is very challenging and many entrepreneurs can attest to that. Have there been any challenges you were personally faced with during your journey?
There are a lot of intricacies that come with running a business, it’s not an easy thing – there’s marketing, getting the product out there, in our case getting the quality right and product development.
My biggest challenge, in my case, was product truth; which was getting the product to the luxury level that I want and then capacity.
Are you still faced with theses challanges?
No; fortunately I am no longer facing those challenges anymore.
What did you do before Inga Atelier.
I had another business called Ndalo Décor- speaking of that, I’m actually the first pioneer when it comes to wooden products in South Africa- if you remember those cellphone pouches, the sunglasses, [and] the wooden bags. I started the whole trend of wooden products in South Africa. We had a shop at the V&A, we had a shop in Braam, so that’s basically what we were doing- I had a wooden bags line called Ndalo Décor.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I sketch, from sketching I come up with samples then it goes through a quality process. The quality assurer looks at everything in terms of the stitching, the inner of the bag- what it looks like and everything. Fom there we run production.
When creating a product, whether a bag or a card-holder, where do you draw inspiration from?
Quite frankly what inspires me is seeing people carrying nice products; for instance the first thing that I said to you [was] ‘I like your bag’, it’s those little tiny details that I notice, and whenever I see someone carrying a nice bag like that I think [to myself] that I want someone to be carrying my nice bag. So basically, I get inspired by seeing people carrying beautiful stuff.
On average, how much does an Inga Atelier item cost?
Price is R2 800 – R11 000, you can get a card-holder for like R800 – so it varies.
What is your vision for your brand as well as for the South African fashion industry as a whole?
The vision is to take our products abroad, but we need to conquer the local market first, you know? Designers need to get their story right so that we can win the hearts of our consumers, they must believe in our products.
Lastly, what advice would you give other creative entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs in general, who are working towards starting/growing their own businesses?
First things first, there’s a fine line between creativity and business and talent – just because you’re talented and you’ve got good design [skills], it does not mean that you have to go into business. You need to be able to balance business and creativity, but you need to be more strong in business, otherwise anyone can create beautiful things but what distinguishes your business is the passion that you have for business and how you run a business – for instance pricing, costing, and your marketing, those are all the key elements of running a good business so you need to make sure and tighten up on all those things once you’ve mastered the actual products.
For more information or to purchase an item, visit ingaatelier.com.