From Creative Entrepreneurs To Sector-Leading Businesses

Creative agency Clout/SA is on a mission to transform the South African design landscape and introduce the country’s brightest creative talents to the world. But in business, creativity is nothing without nous, which is why Clout/SA has been helping designers to master the basics.

An understanding of the business world is key no matter what industry you’re in. From architecture to entertainment, music to design, learning business basics is vital for creatives to gain an edge and be successful.

It’s this gap in designers’ knowledge that Clout/SA, a purpose-driven creative agency and business-to-business market maker, is successfully filling. ‘We recognised that many of [the designers we work with] have incredible creative talents, but they were missing foundational business principles and practices,’ explains managing executive Nokuzola Jennes.

This led to the development of a business mentorship programme, which kicked off in 2019, in partnership with Enterprise Room, a business management consultancy. Participants receive on-site training, before embarking on an ongoing off-site training programme that includes being allocated mentors to help with finances, production and other aspects of running a successful business.

Mpho Vackier, founder of award-winning furniture design brand The Urbanative, says the programme helped her realise ‘that I am both a creative director and a business owner, and I have to wear both these hats’. ‘The support we received really did help me look at The Urbanative as a business, because … you can’t become a household brand if nobody’s buying and they’re just oohing and aahing; you can’t pay with oohs and aahs.’

Learning that she had to outsource the finance and marketing arms of her business was a key lesson for Bonolo Chepape, who took part in the mentorship programme after winning a spot as one of the Top 10 finalists in the 2018 Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search. A textile designer by training, and a self-described multidisciplinary creative, Chepape founded Lulasclan, a textile and homeware brand, in 2016. ‘For an entrepreneur, you’re initially doing everything yourself. But now, as things have developed, I’ve been able to identify opportunities to outsource some of these departments within the business, so I can rather focus on product and clients,’ she says.

For Siyanda Mbele, owner of Pinda Design, an interior design business and furniture design brand, the business lessons from the mentorship were a catalyst towards shifting his business offering. ‘When I started on the programme, my business was mostly product design, whereas now I’ve pivoted more towards providing a service offering as an interior designer, because I realise that the interior design service I was providing was far more profitable for the business,’ he says.

In addition to this ongoing business mentorship for local designers, Clout/SA’s mission includes a series of exhibitions, collaborations, production and manufacturing opportunities. All this had its genesis in the refurbishment of Nando’s head office in Johannesburg in 2015, which shone a light on South African design and the possibilities large-scale collaborations with local designers could deliver. This led to the establishment of the Nando’s Design Programme.

With a keen understanding that the design sector could be representative of everything the country has to offer, and be reflective of the nation’s cultural heritage, national beauty, design language and aesthetic, the team behind the programme set about working towards empowering emerging talent and design businesses in order to transform the sector into a representative one. 

One of the key vehicles for this was the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, which was launched in 2015; many finalists and winners have gone on to become household names and global ambassadors for South African design. Another was the Nando’s Portal to Africa, an online marketplace launched in 2018 that allows interior designers working on hundreds of Nando’s casas around the world to order furniture from South African designer-makers.

The work done over those first five years led to the launch of Clout/SA in 2020, and the enterprise continues to create opportunities for designers and facilitate opportunities for corporate companies to support and collaborate with South African designers. Tracy Lynch, a managing executive at Clout/SA as well as the curator of the Nando’s Design Programme since its inception, views this as a big part of her role, and to make sure that the designers are linked to opportunities in the Nando’s world and beyond.

‘A big part of what we do is about being able to recognise which Hot Young Designer finalists could deliver on specific opportunities, and then initiating collaborations and partnerships – recognising which designer-makers in our community of designers represented on the Nando’s portal would be well suited to collaborate with one of the young designers,’ she says.

Siviwe Jali, one of the Top 10 finalists from the 2020 leg of the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, has recent first-hand experience of this holistic approach to business support, with a bench, a server, and a number of lights prototyped with the help of Clout/SA. In 2022, he was awarded Best New Talent at Decorex Cape Town, where the Clout/SA team was also awarded the Best Collaboration award. Through Clout/SA, Jali was introduced to established designer, manufacturer and retailer Ashanti Design, where some of his designs, developed in collaboration with Ashanti, are now sold.

Three years since its inception, the Clout/SA team continues to make significant strides towards its goal to take South African design to the world. With the help of Nando’s and Clout/SA, the work of The Urbanative’s Vackier, as well as that of Thabisa Mjo, the very first winner of the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, was exhibited at Milan Design Week 2019. Vackier says that, as a result of the support of Clout/SA, she is finding that increasingly interest in her work is coming from beyond South Africa’s borders, and she has already signed with agents in New York and Switzerland. And in 2020 Mjo became the first South African designer to have her work collected by the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Palais du Louvre, right in the heart of Paris, as part of its permanent collection.

And there will be learnings for the team, too. ‘Because we’ve had all these different designers at different stages in their careers coming through, we now have the opportunity to look back and see what was the common thread,’ Lynch explains, ‘what were the most important elements that, across the board, were well received and benefited the designers the most. And, moving forward, we want to build on those strengths.’

For more information about Clout/SA, visit https://clout-sadesign.co.za/ or follow us on @clout_sadesign

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