Turning wood into a fashion statement
“We had no idea how to manufacture wooden products, we knew nothing about wood.”
situated in the heart of Melville in Johannesburg at 27 Boxes, a shopping mall constructed from shipping containers, WoodiZ boasts fashionable eyewear, bow ties, backpacks, satchels, caps and cufflinks – all made out of wood.
The business was co-founded in mid-2013 by Damian and Angela Goliath, who wanted to take a much-loved international concept and adapt it for the local market. The duo started out as resellers for someone who sold wooden eyewear in Cape Town.
Then the manufacturer of the machine that is used to make the wooden frames offered to help them build their own machine in Johannesburg.
“That kicked off ideas to create new and exciting ways of creating fashion accessories with elements of wood that haven’t been done before,” says Angela, who handles marketing and branding, as well as aspects of the product development and the daily running of the store. Damian works mainly behind the scenes to ensure production and operations run smoothly.
“We had no idea how to manufacture wooden products, we knew nothing about wood. We just saw these products and had a deep desire to want to be part of it and wanted to know how to [make them],” explains Angela. “When he offered [help with our own machine], we saw it as a great opportunity to have our own brand.”
They rented factory space in Randburg to build a special machine for the manufacturing of wooden bow ties and eyewear frames.
But starting the business did not come cheap. They approached family and friends for start-up capital. Angela’s father took out a R150 000 loan from the bank, which helped get the business off the ground. Their products were selling well at markets and “people loved what we were doing, and [my father] could see the potential”, she says.
Even though they manufacture the wooden eyewear themselves, the polarised UV400 lenses are imported. They work with a local optometrist
“I’m happy we were rejected [by most major retailers] because the ones that were interested would say, 100%‘We want a mark-up, but we don’t want to charge more than what you’re charging retail.’ And we wondered if it was worth it.”
who shapes these lenses so they fit into the wooden frames. WoodiZ also makes prescription glasses and sunglasses for customers.
Their bow ties can be customised – customers can add clip-on fabric of their choice to the wooden bow tie frames.
At the end of 2015 they introduced watches with wooden faces, and in a collaborative effort added their own twist by getting a wrap scarf manufacturer Voilà Feel Beautiful to make wraparound straps for the watches.
The brand’s backpacks and caps incorporate traditional seshweshwe fabric (a traditional Sesotho printed fabric) and wood. WoodiZ products come with a 12-month warranty, says Angela.
Although their best customers are tourists, they do not limit their brand to a specific target market. “We really can’t put our brand in a specific box and say, ‘It’s for this or that subculture’…we [are] actually not surprised by who walks through the doors of our shop anymore. We have anyone from white-collar 50-yearolds walking in to purchase bow ties and cufflinks to 15-year-old girls coming through to purchase bags and watches,” says Goliath.
One of the biggest hurdles they faced in the beginning was getting retailers to believe in their unknown brand and sell their products, says Angela. “We had very little interest; we must have approached over 100 retail outlets but got very few bites.”
But they didn’t give up – they created an online store, beefed up their social media presence and made stylists ambassadors of their brand. They continued selling at various markets like Braamfontein’s Neighbourgoods market on Saturdays. On Sundays, they showcased their goods at Arts on Main in Maboneng.
“Eventually a brilliant opportunity came when we were approached to have a store in a new centre for young designers called 27 Boxes,” she says. “It’s crazy because those same retailers are now contacting us.”
Like with many local businesses, the depreciation of the rand has had a negative impact on the start-up. “We’ve had to increase our prices because the cost of importing polarised lenses and the lenses themselves has gone up quite a bit,” Angela explains.
“I’m happy we were rejected [by most major retailers] because the ones that were interested would say, ‘We want a 100% mark-up, but we don’t want to charge more than what you’re charging retail.’ And we wondered if it was worth it,” Goliath recalls.
She says the rejection worked in their favour in the end, because, had they collaborated with a big retailer, the business would have fallen apart.
The WoodiZ team are currently working on obtaining their import and export licence because people from the likes of Australia and France have shown interest in stocking their goods.
In future, they would like to open two additional stores in other parts of the country and eventually sell their products overseas.