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Amâna by Elzane Ludeke

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“Be persistent. Be consistent – and if you do not believe in yourself, how do you expect others to believe in you?”

Elzane Ludeke is a designer & entrepreneur who was born & raised in Namibia. She grew up on her family’s farm before moving to Windhoek to start school. Since primary school, Elzane knew that she wanted to become a fashion designer, drawing elegant dresses & costumes. Having grown up on the farm, she also had a love for leather since the beginning.

She went on to study Fashion Design at Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design in Stellenbosch. After graduating in 2013 as Top Achiever of the Year, Elzane was approached to pilot their very first 4th year specialization course, in Exotic Leather Accessory Design – comprising of theory for half the year & practical work in the relevant industry for the other half.

Her fashion career took shape when she started her practical work at Cape Cobra Leathercraft in Cape Town. After two months of interning, she was offered a job as a Product Developer for the next year. Unfortunately, she had some trouble with a work visa down the line but before she even moved back to Namibia, she was offered a job in Windhoek. On returning home, Elzane helped set up a factory & trained people to make leather handbags at a local company called Myeisha. She worked there for two years as a Designer & Production Manager. Those two years were what gave her the confidence & reassurance she needed to start her own company. In doing so, she fulfilled a lifelong dream, and I never knew I would be able to do it at the age of 27.

“It was a struggle to find a name for a brand which would hopefully be internationally recognized one day, but Amâna was a perfect fit at the end of the day. It means truthful in Damara, which compliments my idea & approach to the fashion industry. I always wanted a transparent, real brand. One which speaks to real, practical, working women of today and not only looks good on models in magazines.” And so, in 2018, Amâna was born.

Tell us about Amâna, the products & services you offer and your team.

“I am a one man show at this stage, managing everything from Design, Product Development to Bookkeeping & deliveries. Certain things I leave to professionals such as graphic design & photography. I work with an amazing photographer, and my best friend, Tara Mette who translates my ideas so beautifully by making the product come to life with her camera. I also work with Lisa Voigts, a graphic designer & illustrator, who designed my logo.

I design genuine leather handbags and have them manufactured overseas. I would love to grow & support the local manufacturing industry but having worked in the manufacturing industry I saw all shortcomings that we have here in Namibia, skilled labour & machinery being some of them. I also wanted to create a brand which produces higher quantities at international standards.”

What inspired you to start this business?

“My dad was one of the biggest inspirations to me. Since an incredibly young age I have been taught business in very practical terms of farming & managing cattle. These principles, I later learnt in life, are relevant to any business and if you understand them, you do not particularly need your MBA.

I also always wanted a brand which is true to myself & my view on the fashion industry –creating products which are unique & which I have always wanted but could not find in Namibia. My general love for leather & handbags, and my passion for innovation made it extremely easy to decide to start a business. I knew exactly what I wanted from it right from the start.”

What do you enjoy most about being your own boss, and did you always know you wanted to delve into entrepreneurship?

“I enjoy drinking a gin & tonic at 1PM on a Friday afternoon. As a creative and a designer, you sometimes find yourself in an almost writer’s block mindset and being your own boss allows you to manage your work according to how you feel. Times like those I focus on admin or financials, whereas some days you just want to be creative & feel inspired and you have the freedom to go with the flow.

It was not until I worked at Myeisha, doing anything & everything, and having the experience of basically setting up a company that I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I found myself enjoying the start-up and running a business more than I ever thought I would. It was then when I also started doing more online courses and reading more books about entrepreneurship. When I started my business and had more flexible hours, I joined the Future Females Windhoek team, which is a global female entrepreneurial movement. Being around other female entrepreneurs and start-ups is what kept me from giving up during the difficult times.”

What sets your products/services apart from those in the same industry?

“My products are manufactured at a high standard & with specialized machinery compared to hand-made products in Namibia, which are just as beautiful but it is almost a completely different industry on its own and cannot really be compared. When it comes to South Africa, I have more competitors in the same field, making it slightly more difficult to differentiate my brand. Focusing on sustainability and slow fashion is crucial today and people are starting to realize the importance of buying quality over quantity, which is a massive advantage for Amâna.”

What challenges have you encountered on your entrepreneurial journey and how did you overcome some of them?

“Every second day is a challenge, but then again, every other day is also a win.

To be honest, my biggest challenge was to have the right mindset. Having your own business is an absolute rollercoaster and you need to be prepared to fail, but you also need to acknowledge small (or big) successes. There were times where I had no work, and creating your own work is not always as easy as it seems, especially if you do not really know what you are doing. But being persistent, having a routine and taking care of your mental health first is key to having your own business. Your mind is your biggest asset, if you have the right mindset you can overcome any other problem and challenge.”

What is your business philosophy?

“Have confidence, even if you don’t know what you are doing.”

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into this industry?

“Be persistent. Be consistent – and if you do not believe in yourself, how do you expect others to believe in you?”

How important is networking as a growth component of any startup?

“Networking is at the very top of the list. One thing I noticed in Namibia, people are so afraid of competition that they avoid sharing ideas & knowledge. This is however changing, and people are becoming more open to collaboration. By connecting with leaders in the industry, who have already had their fails & successes, it can provide you with rich knowledge and you can learn from their experience in the field, saving you time and money.”

What role does your startup play in 1) contributing to society and 2) in nurturing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Namibia?

“We have been working closely with manufacturers in the clothing industry in Windhoek, hoping to grow the fashion industry in terms of manufacturing locally and providing more jobs. This is however a long-term project along with another local designer, Conrad Prollius of Pinstripe Hippy. At this stage Amâna directly contributes to the society by sparking innovation & creation in young designers and hoping to motivate them to start their own venture where they can create more employment opportunities in the future.

We also have some exciting things planned a bit further down the pipeline where we would like to expand on the manufacturing industry and create a hub where local designers have access to these facilities and can start producing on a larger scale here in Namibia. There is a great demand to produce locally, but often the resources are not available or materials are expensive because it is being imported in small quantities. If we as designers stand together, instead of fearing the competition, we can create this opportunity of producing garments locally at an affordable price. This will uplift local designers, create job opportunities & boost the Namibian Fashion Industry as a whole.”

What recommendations would you make towards the improvement of the operations of startups?

“Focus on consistent and good quality. Know your own numbers. It is especially important to know what exactly is going on in your business, so do not leave the numbers just to the accountants. Familiarize yourself with absolutely every aspect of the business. If you have employees get to really know them as well. To ensure operations within your business are running smoothly, you need to know every problem that might occur & be ready for almost anything.”

Startups in Namibia, and all over the world, are facing an unprecedented crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic; how has your startup adjusted to the situation and/or assisted in disseminating information, combatting the spread of the virus, etc.?

“Apart from losing sales during lockdown, I prefer to focus on the positive side of this pandemic. Since the start, my business was mainly run online. Being in Southern Africa, people are still hesitant to buy online and do not really trust the system. This was a great opportunity for people to step out of their comfort zones and start purchasing online. In terms of circulating information about COVID-19, we informed & educated the public and our consumers on the safety & convenience of buying online.”

Email: hello@amana.design

Website: www.amana.design

Facebook: @amana.accessories

Instagram: @amana_design

LinkedIn: @elzane.ludeke

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