After Work Drinks with Fashion Designer Celeste Arendse
We met with the founder and designer of Selfi, Celeste Arendse for after work drinks at Arcade in Cape Town to discuss what it means to own a successful independent fashion label in South Africa right now. As she steers her brand in a new direction, she lets us in on where she’s at, “I like the idea of acting locally but thinking globally. I’m in a place where I have to create what my ideal is here or I have to find it overseas and I have to make peace with that decision. Neither is going to be easy.”
“Now I go with my feelings, my senses, what’s intuitive.” – Celeste Arendse
What does independence mean to you?
It means doing what you want and having an authentic way of working. Having your own flow. Not feeling like something’s controlling where you put your product or what fashion shows you want to do.
There was a time where I did feel I needed to showcase every season to show that my brand is relevant and that I’m part of the design culture. I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I go with my feelings, my senses, what’s intuitive.
How has that changed things in your business?
The last 2 months have been my most successful because I’ve re-focussed my energies.
I’ve done shows for four years and it’s been great putting myself out there but you don’t really make money from that, it’s just brand awareness. And it’s great to have your work featured in Vogue and other publications but it doesn’t give you instant revenue. I was doing things at such a fast pace that I felt kind of detached from the collections. Because we’re working to this seasonal cycle, you see people starting to regurgitate their styles and you don’t see anything fresh and new.
So I wanted to focus on the business side of things again. It feels really good doing a collection that’s not for show but is for my direct customer. It’s good not having to think, “I know this will be great for the runway, and this will be featured in this mag.” It’s not having to please so many people, but just pleasing the people that really matter, who actually buy your product.
I’ve been speaking to other designers and friends who feel the same way. There’s a bit of a wave, even at New York fashion week, of a lot of brands moving away from showcasing so much as they’re seeing it isn’t an instant return on investment. Doing something private is actually sometimes nicer. Or shooting a good lookbook which you can still send to the relevant places.
What’s the best advice you’ve come up with through experience?
Find your niche. A lot of designers make clothes for runway but I think you have to find who it is that you want to make clothes for. I would sit at Clarke’s or Lola’s and just watch people. I developed this idea of this woman and it became an innate thing, I’d see a particular woman and know that’s the woman who I’m making clothes for.
Always pay people. Cape Town is so small, pay people when you say you’re going to. Create a good reputation. Your reputation is the most important thing, it’s what’s going to keep you in this industry and keep people wanting to work with you.
Be present so you can tap into what’s current and you can create something that relates to what’s happening now in the world and stay relevant.
“As a creative you constantly have to tell yourself how great you are all the time and sometimes you feel like you’re lying to yourself.” – Celeste Arendse
What do you fear? How do you overcome this to get things done?
I suppose being irrelevant, like you don’t have a voice or that your voice doesn’t matter. The way I overcome that is to just focus on the now and forget about the future. I sometimes fear ending up homeless one day, but I don’t ever fear being poor because it’s a state of mind. The biggest fear I have is not believing in myself or giving up.
As a creative you constantly have to tell yourself how great you are all the time and sometimes you feel like you’re lying to yourself. But it works. You fucking have to believe in yourself because no-one else will.
When I started my business a lot of friends at the time would say to me, “What if it doesn’t work?”. But I knew it would work. It’s a feeling I had, it just felt right.
“I don’t believe that if I close my business then I’ve failed it.” – Celeste Arendse
How did your label happen?
When I studied I always knew that I wanted to do my own thing and that it was something that we needed in our country: clothes that you wouldn’t find here. I also knew there was a woman much like me who would travel and who loves art and who is in a creative field and she wants to look stylish but still feel different. I saw a gap in the market.
I started by creating a line and putting it in stores which meant I made money first before anyone really knew about me, before I was on the runway or being written about. I see young designers starting a collection with 3k and going straight to runway which gets you all this hype and people talk about your brand but you don’t even have a business registered yet, you don’t have a tax certificate, you don’t have an exporters’ license.
You’re not just a designer, you are a business and you are a brand. The best way to be all three is to do the groundwork first.
My mom had her own factory so she influenced me a lot. She would say you can’t just do your patterns here on the floor. Come to the factory and do it there. My mom is a tough-ass women who believes you need to do shit for yourself. She motivated me a lot. If she wasn’t the woman she is I don’t know if I would have pursued my business the way I did. Her being an entrepreneur sustaining a household made it more tangible for me, it made me see it was possible.
Beyond being an example to you, is there anything you remember her telling you?
“Jy kan nie net hier sit nie!” It was a wake up call. She knew that I could be better, and she was the best person to have it come from.
What is success to you? What is failure?
For me, success is doing the things you planned to do. Even if it’s breaking up with a boyfriend! Or going to gym, or eating better. Following through on something that you’ve been wanting to do makes you feel stronger.
I don’t think there’s a final point of success but I think it’s moments of achieving those things that make you happier. With each thing you’re being true to yourself more and more. Failure is not doing those things. But you can always try again.
I don’t believe that if I close my business then I’ve failed it.
Do you feel there’s a time limit for your goals?
I don’t think there’s a cut off limit. There are brands, designers, who are so old and who have been doing it for so long. I want Selfi to be a long term thing that eventually becomes a heritage brand that people will love forever. I like that what I do feels like a lifestyle not just a job. I don’t feel very rushed.
The most challenging thing for me now is fulfilling the next step. I feel like I’ve reached a plateau and it feels like I’m starting things from scratch again. It takes feeling a bit lost in a way. I want to do things that excite me. Money is going to come and go but exploring new things is more important than getting a fat cheque right now.
What are some of your work day rituals:
I listen to motivational audiobooks by Louise Hay. It’s all about putting stuff into action so I’ll listen to it while I’m working. I burn incense in my studio ritually.
Who is your industry crush:
I really love Sol-Sol. I really like Matt, his energy is so calm. I love that he is making clothes people actually wear.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on the internet this week?
One of the things I love doing is just checking out hood clips. Little kids dancing, just things in the hood, you know. It makes me laugh. I send it to friends who relate.
You need to create your own state of being now more than ever. You cannot follow the status quo: what society put forward for us 10 years ago. You’re just going to make yourself unhappy. You have to live by your own compass and make your own rituals.