IT IS said that quality lasts a lifetime. And it was quality from three generations ago that has allowed 34-year-old Akhona Vundisa to launch a thriving high-end bag range.
Sifting through old stuff stashed in a hut on the outskirts of the Eastern Cape, Vundisa came across two vintage leather bags that caught his attention. Drawn to them, he dusted them off and admired the artistry.
“I asked my father who they belonged to, and he said they were his father’s,“ Vundisa said.
“He explained to me that my great-grandfather was leather bag maker in Scotland, and he would give my grandfather two bags each time he was coming to South Africa,” he said.
Intrigued by the design and quality of the leather used, Vundisa took the bag and carried it at varsity. He said students at the University of the Free State started inquiring about where he got it. That sparked a bright idea in his head. By March of 2020, Dr J Struthers was born.
“I got tired of explaining it belonged to my grandfather, and I decided to start my brand and sold similar bags. I did not have to reinvent the wheel, but I continued a legacy that was always there,” he said.
He approached the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) for funding and was given R47 000 to get him started. He found a factory in Woodstock, Cape Town, to bring his vision to life. But life is never straightforward, and curve balls will always come. As he was preparing to launch his company and the bags, President Cyril Ramaphosa placed South Africa on level 5 lockdown.
Vundisa said he found himself with a product but nowhere to move it.
“I had to think outside the box. While sitting at home, I thought to myself; everyone is on their phones during this period. I decided to push the brand on social media and reach people from their homes,” he said.
During the pandemic, he made his first sale in April of 2020, and he has never looked back. By June of that same year, the first range was sold out. But as many entrepreneurs would know, he did not get to enjoy the profits from the success of the business.
“I reinvested the profits back into the business to grow it to ensure the second range was larger. Again it sold out in 2021, and I reinvested those profits back into the business. I want to grow it first before I can start enjoying the profits, but hopefully, 2022 might be different,” he said.
Vundisa is exceptionally proud of the history behind the product and the stories that the bags tell. He said they tell stories of different tribes and cultures worldwide, including the Maasai in Kenya. The young entrepreneur who admits that he had not done market research when he started is about to conquer the international market.
“We are going to be collaborating with a company in the United Kingdom, Struthers Watchmakers, who make unique timepieces. They will be giving their clients our bags as gifts after buying timepieces, which has me excited. It’s overwhelming to know that people worldwide will now be using our bags which are made here in South Africa by a young man from the rural areas,” he said.
The soft-spoken man from the Eastern Cape explained that the business trajectory was exciting, given that he had to store his bags in his res room as he could not afford to pay for a warehouse.
“Now, my bags will be on the world stage. The next step will be to have stores in all the major cities in the country. I would also like to collaborate with David Tlale and Maxhosa to further cement South Africa’s legacy on the international fashion stage,” he concluded.
Dr J Struthers is a luxury leather luggage made out of aniline leather, the highest quality leather.
Aniline is the most natural, soft and gracefully supple of all leather types.
The inner lining is made out of material resembling the Struthers Clan tartan.
Each of the products are named after living tribes from around the globe.