Mintaka & Vermont Leathercraft
OWNER: Mandy Owen STARTUP COSTS: Our initial investment in Vermont Leathercraft was R110 000 in 1987. TURNOVER: R7.5 million a year
Mandy Owen has been at the helm of Vermont Leathercraft for 30 years, a far cry from where she started out. ‘I spent the first five years of my working life as an articled clerk for an auditing firm in Pretoria, before becoming an accountant and later moving into sales,’ she says. But Mandy had more creative aspirations.
‘In 1985 I started making leather belts in my guest bedroom at home and selling them to friends and family, while still doing my day job.’ In 1987, when a fashion brand specialising in belts and bags came up for sale, Mandy’s husband Graham took the leap and bought it.
‘My mother is my true inspiration, fuelling and motivating me to pursue my dreams,’ she says. ‘She taught me how to sew and sparked my love for the industry.’
Vermont Leathercraft began branching out, manufacturing bespoke hospitality items and corporate gifts, along with handbags, wallets and travel accessories. The company had been manufacturing for private labels for years, but never had its own brand – until last year.
‘Mintaka is our own in-house luxury handbag and accessory brand. We launched it in October 2017,’ Mandy says.
‘We’re very excited to bring this uniquely South African offering to market. There’s massive opportunity for growth and job creation in handbags.’
Since Mintaka is the ‘third chapter’ of her business, it was named after the third multiple star in the Orion’s belt or Three Sisters constellation.
‘It took us a year to come up with the name, develop what the brand would look like and all the finer details surrounding it,’ says Mandy. Mintaka’s range consists of handbags, travel bags, wallets, purses, cosmetic bags, travel accessories and business bags made from ostrich skin and leather. The bags are designed with a timeless aesthetic in mind – pieces that can be worn season after season.
‘Every ostrich skin has a unique quill pattern, the colour range is spectacular and the end product is gloriously luxurious.’
Mandy is totally hands on in her business, overseeing the entire manufacturing process as well as quality control, and sharing the job of pattern making with her son, Chad, who trained in handbag design in Milan. The brand is sold at boutiques and online and will soon be retailing in their own boutique factory shop.
Mandy is also passionate about job creation. ‘I believe in the dignity of sustainable employment. Our factory team is 90% black women,’ she explains. ‘They’re all highly skilled and produce beautiful leather goods.’
Left: Genuine leather Double Handle Shopper. Below left: Mandy started out making belts in her guest bedroom.