You might be excused for confusing Berné and Simoné Theron for fashion models. With their high cheekbones and pearly white smiles it looks like they just walked off the pages of a fashion magazine. But these two ladies are much more than just beauty. They are the brains behind Theron & Theron Designs, the manufacturers of beautiful handmade leather handbags and fashion accessories that have everyone talking.
Growing up in Kempton Park on the East Rand, Berné (24) and Simoné (26) dreamt of one day owning a business together. After high school Simoné was off to the North-West University in Potchefstroom to study economics and international trade where she also completed a post-grad diploma in business management. Berné completed an honours degree in Business in Fashion Merchandising.
However, it was only after completing their studies that the idea for Theron & Theron Designs was born. “I was lying in bed one night thinking about what I was going to do next year when I came up with the idea of making handbags,” says Berné. “I got up right there and worked until 03:00 in the morning to make a handbag from a piece of synthetic leather in my room. The next day I showed the handbag to Simoné and instantaneously we decided to open Theron & Theron Designs.”
Since the business opened its doors in 2015 it has been a whirlwind journey during which the two sisters grew their business exponentially and learned a lot of lessons along the way. “It took a lot of hard work to see success in such a short amount of time. We have made a lot of mistakes and we are still learning every day,” says Berné.
According to Simoné their studies helped them a lot as business owners, especially to understand their target market better. “Because Berné specifically studied business in fashion merchandising, her knowledge helped us to better understand the needs of the fashion market and how to establish our brand in the fashion industry,” she says.
“From the beginning quality control was very important to us,” says Berné. “We aim to manufacture unique and exclusive products and use only the best leather to ensure that every product that sports the Theron & Theron brand is of the highest quality.”
She says the manufacturing process was initially a big challenge as neither of them had any training in the physical manufacturing of leather products. “We had to learn how to do everything from scratch and there were some designs we struggled with in the beginning. Watching online videos was a big help in learning how to make the handbags. We found patterns for handbags online and also followed online tips on making the finer detail on the bags. We became more and more knowledgeable and later we were able to design our own patterns to make the handbags from.”
Berné says it was also a challenge to find the right people to employ, as they were initially looking for someone with experience in the manufacturing of handbags or someone who has worked with leather before. They later decided to hire two employees and train them to help with the manufacturing of the products.
However they still prefer to be personally involved with all the different aspects of the business. Simoné is responsible for the marketing of the business, while Berné takes care of the design and operational management. Every so often they introduce a new range on their website, but also work with their clients to design custom-made handbags according to the client’s needs and preferences.
A luxury market
“We decided from the get-go to sell our products online. Later store owners contacted us to request if they could stock some of our products in their shops. At the moment there is still a shop in Middelburg that stocks Theron & Theron products, but we still focus mostly on online sales.”
Simoné says the fact that their products are made from genuine leather automatically placed them in the luxury fashion market and they did not find it challenging to break into the market. “The challenge is rather to stay relevant and unique in the market,” she says.
“People sometimes think South African consumers are only on the hunt for a bargain, but there is an additional segment of the market that rather wants unique and quality items. We find that these consumers prefer handmade products of exceptional quality. This makes Theron & Theron’s customised service very popular because the clients like to be involved with the design of their own products,” she says.
She says that being friends with a few celebrities also helped to give their products more exposure. “However sometimes celebs buy our products at festivals and we only see it afterwards in the media,” says Berné. “It is wonderful to see that celebrities are interested in our products.”
“Good client service ensures that clients stay loyal to your brand and buy your products again and again. Of course sometimes mistakes will be made, but what is important is to give feedback and correct the mistake as soon as possible.”
The greatest lesson they have learnt along the way is that exceptional client service is one of the most important aspects of any business. “Good client service ensures that clients stay loyal to your brand and buy your products again and again. It is also excellent word-of-mouth marketing because they tell other people about your business. Of course sometimes mistakes will be made, but what is important is to give feedback and correct the mistake as soon as possible,” says Berné.
Is it difficult to differentiate between their personal and professional relationship? “It can be challenging, but our relationship has grown so much stronger since we started working together,” says Berné. “We don’t allow our personal relationship to influence our business decisions.”
Simoné thinks the fact that they know each other so well actually helps them to work together more efficiently. “We know how to handle each other and truly complement one another. It is important to be colleagues at work, but to add our friendship as sisters to the mix,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t agree on something, but we never fight about it and always handle it the best way possible.”
The best advice they can give young entrepreneurs is to stick it out when things seem impossible. “To be an entrepreneur requires a lot of hard work. In the beginning there won’t be a lot of people to help you out, but it is then that you have to put in everything to see success,” says Berné. “If you have a dream, believe in it wholeheartedly. Grab every opportunity with vigour and don’t throw in the towel.”
Both Berné and Simoné like to stay on top of the latest trends and dress fashionably, but say they prefer a jean and t-shirt at home. Simoné says her favourite shops are Cotton On, H&M and Forever New, while Berné puts together her look from H&M mostly.
Of course their personal styles have an influence on their designs at Theron & Theron, but they also keep an eye on the international runways and include the latest fashion trends into the design of their own products.
In future they plan to experiment with different fabrics. “We will always use the different fabrics in combination with leather as we want to stick to the uniqueness of our products,” says Berné. “Over the next five years we would love to establish Theron & Theron as a significant name in the fashion industry so you will be able to see Theron & Theron countrywide in all the big cities and leading fashion shops.”