When I visit Missibaba’s studio in Woodstock, Cape Town, the radio is blaring while sewing machines rattle away. There are mounds of different coloured leather skins waiting to be transformed painstakingly by hand into exquisite handbags, belts, totes and more. Wide windows frame views of sunny sky and Table Mountain. I’m here to chat to Chloe Townsend, who founded the 
handcrafted accessories label in 2005, and Lizel Strydom, who joined as a partner in June 2013 after a decade of developing accessories for leading international brands including Miss Sixty, Energie and Replay. 

Chloe Townsend and Lizel Strydom
Chloe Townsend and Lizel Strydom
Image: Sean Calitz

This year Missibaba celebrates its 10th birthday – and it’s set to be a bumper one. Its new retail space in Joburg’s Birdhaven district is only a few months old. Like its Cape Town store in Bree Street, it shares the premises with jewellery brand Kirsten Goss. Townsend and Strydom have put the finishing touches to an online store which will help the brand to serve its growing band of international devotees.

Orders have already been received from as far afield as Germany, Australia and the US as word spreads among people who have bought pieces while holidaying in SA. A new range was recently unveiled. The inspiration behind many previous collections has come from places travelled to, such as Kenya, but Townsend tells me that the time spent in Cape Town over the past year has also been “a positive thing”.

Strydom, who relishes working on something that is less fashion driven (“it’s much more creative”), says, “We’re not really a seasonal brand so we rather give a collection its own identity within the brand.” Townsend drives the creative process while Strydom is more focused on the business side of things – although there is some overlap.

That’s what we’re proud of doing – a         beautiful, authentic     product that’s made with a lot of love.

It helps that “both speak the same language when it comes to colour and pattern; there’s a lot of common ground”, Townsend says. She wryly describes the brand as a “long-burner” – building a sustainable luxury brand has taken time and plenty of incremental steps. Over time “we’ve acquired the freedom to dictate the pace we work at (such as) when we do a new collection”.

Now that the brand is more established, she feels under less pressure – things 
can happen more organically. “A small business like this is a microcosm of your life – the way you grow as a person, it grows alongside you.  You’re learning all the time; you’re learning life skills.” A big lesson Townsend has learnt over the past decade is that “intuition is a key navigator”.

An example of this is when her “pretty entrepreneurial” family suggested
Missibaba launch a cheaper-to-produce collection made in the East that would “essentially sustain Missibaba”, but would result in moving away from the brand’s ethos of producing everything locally and by hand. She resisted this, as “it’s just never felt right”. Strydom says that a rigorously artisanal approach is “not the easiest route to follow but it’s so worth it.

I can’t explain to you the energy you get out of doing something ethical. There is no cutting corners. That’s what we’re proud of doing – a beautiful, authentic product that’s made with a lot of love.” Townsend believes that in times of economic turbulence, consumers are more careful of how they spend their money. “They want something that will last.” As Missisbaba’s second decade begins, the duo are committed to showing buyers that “local luxury is possible and worth supporting”.

Cape Town: 229 Bree St, 021 424 8127.
Joburg: Shop 3 Wrenrose Court, 64 St Andrews Rd, Birdhaven, 011 880 2099. missibaba.com

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