“Fashion accessories are like herbs and spices. They give zest and zing to an outfit.” - Iris Apfel
Samantha (Hart) van Gemert is the owner of Harbor Accessories, a company that manufactures and supplies trendy fashion accessories to retail giants.
Equipped with 10 years’ experience in retail and a passion for jewellery manufacturing, she decided to finally start her own business. We asked Samantha a few questions about her entrepreneurship journey and she opened up about her achievements and challenges so far.
What do you do?
I am a Fashion Buyer by trade and have been for about 10 years now. I’ve worked with fashion accessories most of my career. In my last job, I worked with jewellery products so I really got to grips with the nitty gritty of manufacturing in South Africa. That is why I enjoy doing what I am doing now, which is manufacturing fashion accessories for retail clients. I see a lot of potential to develop and manufacture fashion accessories locally.
What makes Harbor Accessories different?
Harbor Accessories is flexible and accommodating; we work on an 8 to 10-week lead time. In contrast, our competitors have a much longer lead time and are rigid about deadlines. In a world where fashion evolves quickly, manufacturers need to react to changes immediately - Harbor Accessories does just that. To add to that, I can spot trends and know how to capitalise on them. I’m a driven person who wants clients to get the most out of every transaction. It starts with trend books, swatches and samples then it goes all the way to production. Giving a retailer an overall view is very important when trying to make your mark in the industry.
Starting your own business
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to start my own business. Harbor Accessories was just a natural extension of what I was already doing in my retail career. I have always had a passion for jewellery manufacturing and that’s kind of where I see myself eventually. That’s why I recently did a jewellery manufacturing course. I really love what I do. I don’t think anyone can start and grow their own business if they didn’t love it. There is nothing more rewarding than being in control of your destiny by working for yourself. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. Entrepreneurship is something you live, breathe and sleep. The great thing about working for yourself is there is no disconnecting, this enables you to continually discover new things. I’m learning so much about myself, how much I’m willing to risk to achieve my goals.
I am very involved in my business, from selecting and designing the accessories overseas to meeting with clients and suppliers. We manufacture our products overseas and have agents in China. We only go there 3 times a year so a lot of the work happens from here in South Africa. I spend a lot of time researching and planning.
What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge for any small business is how to grow in a sustainable manner. Building a customer base takes time. The other challenge is how do you become big enough to disrupt the established market. The key is to always maintain your product look and feel in manufacturing. The things I worry about are whether I should grow the wholesale market or develop my own brand. Each has its own challenges which are quite daunting.
Advice for aspiring business owners
This is a bit of a cliché but still valid: there is no perfect time to start your business. The conditions will never perfectly align to your life. Start with the understanding that failure is okay so try as many times as you need to. I wish that someone had told me beforehand that failure is never permanent. It should be something that drives you to come back stronger.
Want to sample some of Samantha’s fashion accessories?
You’re in luck. Early next month, Harbor Accessories will be hosting a warehouse sale. It will be happening in Samantha's unit at Storehouse Midrand on 3, 4, 5 May 2017.
In case you missed it, here’s a gallery of Harbor Accessories’ sample sale from last year. It was hosted at the Storehouse Studio with bags, scarves and jewellery priced as low as R10.
Need studio or showroom for presentations, training, exhibitions or meeting? Storehouse is a secure, upmarket business complex in Midrand that has a large Studio available. It has 30 seats and can be rented for a half day or for a full day at these rates.