Sit down with Heather Moore and Laura Turok of Skinny laMinx over coffee and date balls in a buzzing Cape Town café. Heather’s textile brand (named after her Siamese cat!) is a gorgeous Cape Town success story of a small female-owned and run business that’s grown to be massively popular with fans and customers around the world. We absolutely love her patterned tea towels and her new Colour Pop Pillows, which complete her range of Palette + Print scatter cushions.
Interview: Sarah Jayne Fell & Delia de Villiers
SJF: When you started out, how different was the vision for the Skinny laMinx brand then compared to how it has evolved?
HM: The vision still is that I just want to make stuff, I just want to go to my studio and make things. And in a lot of ways that still drives what we do. Anyone who has a small creative-led brand will tell you same thing, that there’s never any time to actually make the stuff. So it’s vital to have a team that is organised and good at planning so that I can continue to generate things.
And so that’s where the Making Friday story comes in, where every week I spend a full day in the studio and make stuff that’s not specifically work-related, it’s just “make stuff”, keeping that creative flow going. And what I do find is that I generate content that I put on my studio walls and in sketchbooks, and as time goes on it gets incorporated into what’s being made for the Skinny laMinx label.
So it’s almost a stealth way of generating design without having to validate the process.
And, as a bonus, it generates content for social media that tells the story of the creative process behind a creative brand.
SJF: In the beginning, obviously the whole landscape was different in terms of social media…
HM: In fact the whole business was built on blogs… back then Blogger… and Twitter was next and then I joined Etsy, which was online selling. Without the internet I don’t think we’d have a business at all.
So it’s very much a business that is borne of social media.
The business is 10 years old, but it was only six years ago that we opened our brick-and-mortar version of the Skinny laMinx shop (it was previously only online). That whole first part was all just online sales and weekend markets.
SJF: And how did you find your audience back then?
HM: It was small! The internet was small, and there was a tight community of bloggers which was very supportive. It was super friendly, and still is I think, although these days it’s much more competitive and strategic and everyone knows what they’re doing in the social media sphere.
SJF: In many industries it is possible to innovate, but in social media what does that even mean?
Because everyone is doing it and everyone has done every version of every creative concept you can think of!
HM: There’s so much online content about how to create a great online presence, and much of it is great advice, but authenticity is the thing that’s hard to learn via an online course. The person who comes to mind is Capetonian Michael Chandler, who manages to be enormously creatively generative in the things he makes, and translate that creativity into the way he presents himself on Instagram too. It’s amazing! I don’t know how he gets so much done and does all those IG stories too! It must simply be something he loves to do, which is why it is so enjoyable to watch.
DDV: Is online still the bigger part of your business?
HM: These days, our business has a lot of different legs that keep us stable: There’s direct retail, which is very good, and then wholesale and then fabric sales through decorators and then online. But we’re working on growing the online shop because although we already have a great deal of international reach, it really does have so much potential for more.
SJF: What’s your balance like in terms of audience?
HM: We sell across the country, and across the globe, selling to individuals who buy online, and supplying stores from San Francisco to Tokyo. Notwithstanding, , our Cape Town fans are the most loyal, which we can tell from our stats on Facebook, Instagram and our weekly newsletter.
LT: We have these long-term “superfans” who read all our newsletters. Because it’s authentic and we don’t try to be too smart about it, it’s really what we need to talk about, what news is coming up and whatever Heather sees…
SJF: I think people like a brand where they can relate to the person behind it and where there is a person behind it.
I would rather buy something from you than from Woolworths… because there’s a story…
HM: You feel like you’re giving a real person something…
SJF: Yeah, you feel like you’re supporting somebody.
DDV: And using your brand for doing interesting things like teaching? How has that happened?
HM: That was good luck. Angela Ritchie, a Canadian woman who runs Ace Camps, mailed one day to ask if I’d like to teach block-printing in India, and I jumped at the opportunity! It’s been a great opportunity to travel and learn things, and it’s been great for the brand, too. I’ve taught in India three times and Lisbon, Portugal twice and now I’ve just been in Swaziland with Ace Camps too. The people who come to the camps are from all over the world. North America largely and Australia and Hong Kong and all kinds of places.
SJF: have you been able to use these trips for research purposes for your design?
HM: Yes. With the India trip I’ve had the opportunity to produce hand-blocked dupatta scarves of my own design, and I’m excited about another opportunity with batik that I’ll be exploring after the Swaziland trip.
It’s been a great way to expand my boundaries… and design boundaries as well.
SJF: In terms of the famous work-life balance…
We realise that being a female entrepreneur has different challenges, in terms of, are you going to have a family and that kind of thing. How have you found that balance in your life?
HM: It does get unbalanced. I don’t have kids. I do have a husband and he’s an artist, and we made a choice not to have children (they are really expensive!) which allows us quite a lot of financial freedom to explore the things we’re interested in. But as far as the work-life balance idea goes, one of our main brand values is that we aim to enjoy our days at work. Our team all works really hard but it’s fun and it doesn’t feel like something that’s super different from life. It’s kind of like the shopkeeper who lives upstairs from the shop and his work is integrated with the life that he leads.
SJF: There’s a quote that we like that says there’s no such thing as work-life balance, it’s all life.
HM: It’s all life, right?! And you have to work.
SJF: And you might as well not hate it!
HM: Unless you’re an heiress. Although… that would be nice!
DDV: So what else are you working on at the moment?
HM: Our concept for this year is summed up in two words: pattern and palette. Everyone who knows Skinny laMinx knows it’s all about pattern. But with 70 different options of pattern and colour choices we’ve noticed people walking in and becoming really overwhelmed by all the choice. And so the idea of bringing another pattern out was… well, how much more choice are we actually going to give them? When we realised that apart from pattern, people know Skinny laMinx for our distinctive colour palette, which is why we’ve brought out a range of plains. So no pattern, just nine options of glorious, saturated Skinny laMinx colours.
We’ve used these colours to make a collection of Colour Pop Pillows, which are designed to make mixing and matching pattern a whole lot easier. The Colour Pops come in contrasting and complementary tones in square, oblong and round shapes. Almost like a macaroon! With piping.
They’re really delicious.
And they’ve honestly been a hit for us right from the start. They make sense. You can go, I love this pattern, I love that pattern, put the plains in between and you have a set. And it looks amazing!