Tania de Vos, founder of Platform23, inspects reed baskets sourced from Zimbabwe. Picture: Supplied
Tania de Vos, founder of Platform23, inspects reed baskets sourced from Zimbabwe. Picture: Supplied

Online store shows off African luxury

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Feb 21, 2021

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OPERATING from the Mother City and with a team of just four, Cape Town e-commerce website Platform23 has set its sights on becoming a one-stop shop for luxury items sourced from across the continent.

Tania de Vos, founder of Platform23, inspects reed baskets sourced from Zimbabwe. Picture: Supplied

Platform23 is the brainchild of founder Tania de Vos. She came up with the idea for the company while completing her MBA at the Nelson Mandela University Business School in Port Elizabeth, where she wrote her dissertation on local e-commerce South African online retailers. What they all had in common, was a lack of distinction for local brands.

“There are so many multinational companies who are competing for South Africans’ disposable income and their spending power,” De Vos said. “If I can create a platform that has all of the local brands together, then it’s easier for the market to support local and buy local.”

After spending a month developing the site, Platform23 was launched in 2018. De Vos said the idea for the name came from the number 23 popping up throughout her life. “If you look up the number 23, it’s one of the most researched numbers that’s associated with mysterious phenomena,” she explained. “It’s also associated with creativity and magic, things that aren’t always explainable. I wanted to start a platform that is a manifestation of creativity.”

Part of Platform23’s ethos is to form close relationships with suppliers, such as Mervyn Gers Ceramics in Port Elizabeth which De Vos is photographed visiting. Photo: Supplied

Platform23 originally started with just one shoe brand. Today, the company is a retailer and wholesaler of more than 70 different brands across sub-Saharan Africa, specialising in handmade, locally-sourced furniture, decor, and fashion with brands such as Pret-a-Pot, Mervyn Gers Ceramics, and Louw Roets furniture.

The company also offers an in-house portfolio of products, such as furniture sourced from a supplier in Malawi, and reed baskets from a rural mother-and-daughter team from Zimbabwe. “They don’t have the means to be online on their own and therefore they only sell them by the side of the road,” De Vos said. “We were able to incorporate people like that and put them on an equal playing field. They are equally powerful when it comes to unique innovation and design, and top quality.”

Despite a downturn during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, an increase in general e-commerce activity has seen Platform23 enjoy double its turnover, with one of the major drawcards being bulk orders from hotel groups and guesthouses. “We have a whole range of local suppliers, these bigger customers can buy from at a wholesale price,” De Vos said. “And once everybody was stuck and working from home, we saw the furniture and decor side increase. We’re doing more sales than we’ve ever had.”

Included in Platform23’s line of label products is furniture sourced from Malawi. The company is eyeing expansion into the rest of the continent. Picture: Supplied

De Vos added the next step for the company was rapid expansion and increased intercontinental marketing. “In order to take Platform23 to what it will be, we have to go to Ghana, Kenya, all the way to Morocco,” she said. “Getting those creative artists online and into one integrated marketplace. Our next step is to find an investor and aggressively look at local and international marketing. I want to see more global exports than local distribution.”

Linda van Rooyen, furniture and decor director for Platform23, said: “We pride ourselves on relationships with our brands and customers. We will walk the extra mile to get our clients to be 100% satisfied. We don’t just work on tech, we work with our shoppers and our brands. That lifts us a bit higher than a normal online sale.”

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