Disrupting the wedding dress industry through innovation
JOHANNESBURG – A deep disillusionment over a wedding gown has spurred an enterprising businesswoman to start a niche company offering tailor-made solutions to brides-to-be.
Entrepreneur Lutho Mbonambi left her corporate job in 2017 to start her company, Agape Wedding Boutique in Johannesburg, following a disappointing spell with her wedding dress.
The 27-year-old businesswoman from East London tied the knot in 2016. However, she says her wedding dress experience did not live up to her expectations. She says the wedding shops she visited didn’t have her dream dress and so she chose to make it from scratch exactly the way she wanted it. But creating a custom wedding dress turned out to be a lot more difficult than she imagined.
“The process,” says Mbonambi, “was filled with an array of challenges including long waiting times, low transparency and inattentive service, to name but a few.”
After talking to other brides, she says, it became apparent that this was a shared experience, and that brides sometimes had worse experiences.
This spurred her to leave her cushy job as a development analyst at an economic consulting firm, Genesis Analytics, in 2017 to start her wedding dress business.
The entrepreneur, who holds a Master’s degree in economic development from UCT, says she is poised to disrupt the lucrative wedding dress industry by offering brides a unique and cheaper way of buying custom-made gowns. She notes that, for most brides, buying a wedding gown is often a frustrating and stressful time.
“A major contributor is that the conventional wedding dress industry has not kept up with the evolving needs of the modern, 21st century bride. Agape Wedding Boutique is disrupting the wedding dress industry by offering brides a new way of purchasing a wedding dress – custom-designed, online and at an affordable price tag.”
Mbonambi believes beautiful wedding dresses can be much cheaper while high quality is maintained. She says Agape Wedding Boutique uses technology to enhance the customer experience. A user dashboard on the company website allows customers to interact with their dresses as it passes the various stages of production.
Mbonambi says she has partnered with a top wedding gown manufacturer in China as more than 70 percent of the world’s wedding dresses are made in Asia’s emerging superpower, including high-end designer labels.
She says that working with the best manufacturers allows Agape not only to ensure superior workmanship but to do so at significantly reduced costs compared to its competitors.
“One of our wishes is not to be a small boutique but a full-scale custom-made wedding dress manufacturer to serve clients in South Africa and abroad.”
Mbonambi adds that it takes three to four months to make a custom-made wedding gown, depending on the intricacy of the dress.
“Our process is very collaborative, from the beginning to end. A bride comes in with inspiration pictures, then we conduct a design consultation in person or via video conferencing,” explains Mbonambi.
“Then within three days, a sketch is made for the bride and if the bride is happy, she pays the deposit. We then link the bride to a local tailor to take measurements. We also send swatches for her to feel and choose from. Thereafter, we start the production process.”
She says spring and summer are their busiest periods as most couples choose these seasons to get hitched.
Her next move, she says, is to penetrate the South African market before branching out.
“We want to be a name to be reckoned with in the custom-made wedding dress industry. We are building a business for the future essentially.”
Mbonambi says she isn't in the business to make a quick buck, but to use business as a form of public service and as vehicle for development.
She says entrepreneurs need to believe in their vision but also acknowledge that sometimes one’s initial idea will change and that is okay.
“Give room for your idea to breathe and evolve into something different. Being willing to adapt and allow others to build on your idea often gives life to something even more beautiful than you ever imagined.”