« At IFA Paris, I learnt how to refine my brand ! »

South African designer and IFA Paris MBA in Fashion Business graduate Joanna Hedley is the happy founder of the swim, resort and sustainable brand BeachCult. A great example of good will and creative spirit.

Hello Joanna! It is impossible to find you online without BeachCult popping up. Tell us about BeachCult?Joanna Hedley

Joanna Hedley: Before doing my MBA at IFA Paris, I had started BeachCult on a very small level - creating a few garments, as well as importing. After completing my MBA, I had refined my vision of creating a 100% sustainable South African swim and resort brand. My brand is largely defined by my use of local artists and illustrators to create unique art driven prints inspired by South Africa. I draw my inspiration from my travels, both in South Africa and around the world, and the brand has become a large part of my identity, as its’ identity is defined by me.

You launched BeachCult before admission into IFA Paris and relaunched shortly afterwards. Can you share how your IFA Paris experience contributed to this evolution?

Joanna Hedley: At IFA Paris I've learnt how to refine my brand, product and entire concept. Before my MBA in Fashion Business, I was trying to do too many products, in short runs, without fully committing to properly branding any of them. I’ve learnt that branding is everything - and that it should be highly defined and the cornerstone of the brand.

I also had lessons that I didn’t realize were so valuable until I had to use the knowledge learnt later on. In the fashion production industry, especially in South Africa, negotiation is key. Everyone comes in at their best possible price or outcome, and you need to be able to negotiate from a strong standpoint to make sure you also get what you want. Before IFA Paris I used to accept prices and services at face value, now I’ve learnt my value, and how to negotiate to get the best for my brand.

BeachCult Mystic Karoo CollectionWhy did you choose IFA Paris?

Joanna Hedley: I had wanted to do an MBA for a while and had been looking for some time; a good friend of mine had just got into IFA Paris and suggested I apply - so I did!

You wear two hats at BeachCult, as Creative Director and as the President. How have you managed to keep both roles balanced while leading a fast-growing fashion brand?

Joanna Hedley: Sometimes I wish I could just do the creative side. When I started I hated managing the marketing, sales and finance side, but as I’ve grown I’ve learnt that these are all key facets - and no one can sell the brand as well as I can! Going forward I am employing strong members of staff who can help me, and I’m learning to give up the reins a little bit. But I think it’s important in the growing first 5-10 years that I stay on top of everything!

BeachCult has produced collections both in niche beachwear and outer garments. Has this proven challenging in defining a brand identity and following?

Joanna Hedley: I have stuck to my vision and what I believe in - I only create garments I would wear, and this has translated well to my following - I meet people all the time who tell me they are converted to the brand and only buy swimwear from us now. I create beautiful swimwear and apparel for women who are carefree, like to express themselves and feel beautiful, and also care about an excellent fit.

I have grown our brand predominantly through social media - 80% of our online business comes from Instagram - as well as through creating stand out pieces that magazine editorials love to shoot.Joanna Hedley

Saying that, there have been many difficulties along the way. Having had no one to bounce ideas off, every time a decision comes up I have to figure it out myself. Some have been great, some not so much. Thankfully, we have had more of the good ideas than the bad!

You have featured regularly at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in South Africa. Tell us about this experience.

Joanna Hedley: Fashion Week is great. As I have a highly visual, colorful brand with exciting prints, it translates very well for magazines and press, who always feature BeachCult as one of their favorite shows. It is, after all, fun to watch and beautiful to wear. I’m not trying to sell something edgy, but rather a window into a life of sunshine and turquoise seas! It is a great platform to show a taste of the new collection before we launch it, especially to get an idea of what both the fashion critics and the public like - and it also forces me to refine the product offering in time to be ready for [sales]!

The Spring Summer 2018 collection received rave reviews. Could you share more on BeachCult’s most recent campaign?

Joanna Hedley: My new collection, titled Mystic Karoo, is inspired by my trip through the Karoo desert in South Africa. There is a huge sense of mysticism and creativity in this region, and I also think possibly the best place to see the stars in the whole world. I related this into prints with two illustrators. Nastasha Sale created the Karoo Mysticism print, which evokes starry nights, burning days, and a sense of the mysterious, inspired by Khoi San myths and the artist Miro. Francois Mostert designed our other print - Banana Leaf - which is inspired by the banana trees in the art towns in the Karoo.

Joanna HedleyYou mentioned that your travel strongly influences your collections. Could you tell us more about how this feeds into your creative process?

Joanna Hedley: I have always been a creative at heart and I grew up travelling all over the world with my family. This has always influenced my ideas, as I am inspired by everything around me, all the time. My brain never stops working - if there is one thing I am never short of, it is ideas. By the time we are producing one collection I have already designed 3 more in my head. I find it important as someone in a creative industry to mix things up, gain new perspectives and also to meet new people. And the best way to do this is through travel, which in turn helps me come up with new and completely different ideas.

Sustainability is a crucial element of BeachCult’s identity. Tell us why this is so important to you. Is it increasingly being prioritized by South African customers?

Joanna Hedley: Sustainability has always been important to me. The minute I mass produce my brand at a non-ethical factory in order to cut costs, the beauty of the experience would be gone for me, and I think for my customers too. Everything is 100% South African made, from the design, to fabric printing, to manufacturing including all our labels, swing tags and packaging, in ethical and sustainable locations here in Cape Town. This has translated not only here, where both locals and tourists prefer to buy products produced locally, but also overseas, where being handmade in South Africa has a positive connotation.BeachCult Mystic Karoo Collection

What projects do you currently have in the works?

Joanna Hedley: We launch the new collection next month, which we are obviously excited for. [Mystic Karoo] will be introduced to the public with our Females of the Future brunch, with prominent young female influencers from the spheres of fashion, art, business and marketing [coming] together to celebrate our brand and the future of women in business in South Africa.

I will also be launching my men’s swim collection this summer - but the details are confidential! Following this I will be heading to Buenos Aires where I have a cult following (excuse the pun!) to host my second annual BeachCult pop-up shop there. We will also be launching in Dubai and Abu Dhabi around the same time - having successfully launched in Greece, France, Turkey and Mexico over the last year.

South African brands are increasingly tapping into the global market. Are you looking to share BeachCult with the rest of the world?

Joanna Hedley: Currently I’m sold in South Africa, Mozambique, France, Greece, Turkey Mexico and Argentina - and looking to increase these countries every year! #beachcult

Any advice for current students?

Joanna Hedley:  I would highly suggest refining your ideas:
What do you want to do after your MBA? Do your Capstone Project on something revolving around what your end goal is - and as many projects as you can. I knew I would continue with BeachCult, so I made as many projects about it as possible - doing all my case studies on summer clothing brands, and my thesis on how to recycle ocean plastic into luxury goods!

For more information on the program Joanna studied at IFA Paris, please see: MBA in Fashion Business

To learn more about BeachCult, please visit https://www.beachcult.co.za