Becoming a proudly South African handbag designer

I’m Adrian Furstenburg and I want to tell you the story of how I became a handbag designer and won the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York in 2016. I’ll give you the clutch bag version — pretty and only carrying the necessities.

I grew up in sunny South Africa and got tastes of London and Paris because my mom was an air hostess. At a young age, I developed a keen interest in fashion and had high hopes and dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

However, my dad, a pragmatic and hard-working farmer, wasn’t going to pay for me to study something like fashion.

So instead, I studied Textile Design and Technology instead, much more sensible!

In 2006, my final year of study, I was badly injured in a serious car accident. I couldn’t drive, draw, or design, and my life was turned totally upside down. I had to find a creative way to finish my degree and I opted for weaving fabric instead…a very therapeutic, but very slow choice indeed.

At the end of my final semester, I had a beautiful piece of cloth, which I decided to have made into a range of four handbags, which I presented as part of my final submission.

That’s when the obsession with handbags began.

After graduation, I worked at a fabric house as an interior design consultant. In 2009, I launched my first collection of handbags. To be honest, this was an epic fail. I was passionate about the work but didn’t have the business acumen — I managed to just cover costs, but not really get my brand out there as much as I hoped.

Alas, I never gave up…I freelanced as a costume designer, started a denim brand, did illustration work, wardrobe styling, bespoke handbags and whatever fashion-related job I could do. I knew I was good at what I was doing, sometimes even great at it. But this was such a stressful time because my income was unpredictable. I enjoyed the risk, but being an entrepreneur is not easy.

One of the best things I did during this time was a course in business at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship nogal, because if you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. So…thank you, Sir Richard Branson.

Even though I was still working on my brand, I still had to pay the bills and in 2015 I started working at a PR firm. Throughout all of these often crazy moments of my life and career, I never gave up on the idea of having my own handbag collection. Somewhere, somehow I just had to get myself into doing what I was supposed to do.

I applied for the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in both 2014 and 2015, but was not selected as a finalist. But in 2016, with sheer determination and a final ‘if-I-don’t-get-in-this-year-I-will-never-do-this-again’ attitude, I applied for three different categories and got that call that really changed my life…thank you Emily.

Going to the awards was my very first time in New York. I was anxious but so determined to win that I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not…I won the award for the Guess All About the Logo category on that summers’ night of June 15th! It was the first time that a South African had won at the awards. Hear me when I say #DreamComeTrueStyle

After winning the awards, I had the confidence to leave my job at the PR firm. In April 2017, I launched my very first collection called SEVEN at the SAFW Luxury Designer Pop-Up and I haven’t looked back since.

On second thought…I do look back, I look back a lot, and it makes me realise that if you are willing to struggle and maybe even suffer for a dream, or a goal – it is really worth it.

Now go #PackYourBagsDarling because #FashionWaitsForNoOne

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