Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Innovation award for 2018, category for Emerging Enterprise
Fashion in SA is a whole new ball game
The local textile is in tatters thanks to cheap imports and fashion designers are struggling but some are fighting back – and keeping their sense of humour while they’re at it.
“It’s a whole new ball game,” says Roman of ROMAN HANDT, avant-garde fashion scientists and textile artisans. This is the tongue-in-cheek slogan for “Romandies” (pronounced “Rom-undies”), a sleek and comfortable line of men’s underwear that boxers, cyclists and other sportsmen are snapping up.
It was Romandies in particular that caught the attention of the tt100 adjudicators. ROMAN HANDT manufactures them in-house, which is unusual for a small design and textile house because underwear is difficult to produce, requiring elastication and various other complicated processes and machinery.
But if you get it right, underwear can be a money spinner. “Men’s underwear has shown the most growth (in the clothing industry) and they are reckoning that the market is worth billions,” says Roman, adding that modern men are “quite happy” to pay for really snug, comfy, aesthetically appealing underwear.
“We pay a lot of attention to fit and the cup part of Romandies sits very snugly so that men never sit on or hurt anything. It really is a whole new ball game.”
The brand has significant market potential in South Africa, not to mention profit potential for its originators. In South Africa, the clothing market is all about price, and underwear is one of the few clothing products that can be sold with a decent mark-up, says Roman.
“When you produce the product in-house, you cut out the middleman and can be very competitive in the market. And with underwear, there is a no return policy!”
To reap the benefits, though, in-house manufacturers need to invest in the right technology – something that emerging and small enterprises are often reluctant to do.
“The only way you can compete is by investing in technology,” says Roman, adding that this need not break a business’s budget. “If you invest time in doing your research, you can pick up quite inexpensive machines by going to auctions.”
Once you have the right equipment to manufacture underwear, it can be used for many other types of garments too, opening up all kind of future possibilities, not just for the individual entrepreneur but for the economy.
“I want to teach younger generations, entrepreneurs in their twenties, that if you have a sewing machine and a product, there is a way to be an entrepreneur and support your family,” says Roman. “Work for yourself – that’s what I want to show people.”