Out of the Ordinary
Thanks to a passion for custom décor, design, and all things interior, as well as a love of giving clients bespoke, unforgettable experiences, Kate Shepherd has started an empire that just keeps growing. Starting a business at the tender age of 18 was no easy feat, but Shepherd’s determination, hard work, and unwavering belief in the niche service she had to offer resulted in her company soaring to success. The numbers speak for themselves: From its inception in 2005, Something Different has gone from a 9 m² space to a 1,200 m² space in Cape Town, and now has an online shop as well as branches in London and Johannesburg in the pipeline.
With an impressive list of clientele – ranging from South African celebs and top rugby and cricket players, to corporates such as Investec, Chevron, and Allan Gray – Something Different has gone from a negative turnover to being a multi-million rand business.
It is safe to say there is no stopping the trailblazer that is Shepherd.
SLOW recently caught up with her to find out more.
SLOW: What was the inspiration behind starting Something Different?
Kate Shepherd (K.S): I had freelanced for both South African and London businesses on events, but really understood the industry here in Cape Town. I worked for another competing company first and given them
many ideas, changes, and concepts that were shot down. I was told in no uncertain terms that they did not want to grow the business – it was merely a lifestyle-supporting company. So I took all my ideas and started Something Different.
SLOW: What were some of the challenges you faced starting a business at 18-years-old?
K.S: My biggest challenge was having no real funds to start the business. Everything was managed on hard work with all profits going back into the business. My ex-business partner, whom I started the business with, was also my greatest challenge. Buying him out after three years was truly the hardest and most difficult time of my life. It was toxic and damaging and nothing was easy. Being young, this affected my confidence and I felt I could not achieve anything. Fortunately, I had incredible supporters around me who helped build me up after this destructive time.
SLOW: What have been some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in business, and how have you overcome them?
K.S: The industry is somewhat saturated. Continuing to strive for great products and service is key. As a woman, you are often not taken very seriously. While being a mother, Something Different has continued to grow, and I have felt this is a personal achievement through business. Also, South African business is a very male-dominated field. When I started Something Different, there were few women in the technical industry, let alone business owners in the events industry. I am so glad to see this number has risen, and I hope that South African women continue to strive to be leaders and mentors.
SLOW: Something Different has become a leader in its field and a multi-million rand business. What do you attribute to this mega success?
K.S: Custom, custom, custom. Oh, and listening. I feel we adapt to the trends, to the season, to the clientele. We are a creative solution for clients, and always want our ideas to be the result of our creating what the market needs. We also pride ourselves on unique ideas. This opens us up to many copycats and competition, but we really do like to think that we live, eat, and breathe our name.
SLOW: What have been some of your most memorable experiences in your career so far? Any events that you feel have shaped you as a businesswoman?
K.S: There are so many. Ones that have truly shaped me as a businesswoman would have to be when I was nominated and finalised as Entrepreneur of the Year for the RBAA [Regional Business Achievers Awards]. Celebrating women and their achievements in business is so vital to growing confidence in all women. It’s not easy to create an SME. In our industry anyone with a clipboard and phone is considered a business owner, so this was a really special time for me to be recognised and it made me feel like my hard work was being noticed. Other experiences would be our constant growth. Year on year we have evolved and grown, always increasing turnover and profit, staff, and stock. We are constantly evolving and this feels like we are doing something right.
SLOW: You recently launched your online store, Something Desired. Can you tell us a bit about this and what prompted you to, as you say, “share the love”?
K.S: We custom design and handcraft ideas for most of our concept-based events. We make all our own furniture, structures, and products – there is nothing brought in from China here. Something Desired is a result of a natural progression into creating these for the public. We are not a catalogue of products to pick from – we want the online store to reflect how we work in events. We want the merchandise to fit the client, the space, the colours, and the style, so it feels truly authentic. The online custom shop is a way clients can really feel that they “own” the item, and that they were part of the design.
SLOW: What can clients visiting the online store expect from the experience?
K.S: It will be a curated guide. We will be able to create items that are not found in any shop, and produce high-quality finishes for long-term use. Clients will get a servicebased business that is creating pieces of art, rather than a walk-in shop with “no love”, so to speak.
SLOW: What are some essential design pieces in your home that you simply cannot live without?
K.S: We [Something Different] are all about comfort. A very comfortable, yet stylish couch and/or daybed is key. We also love to entertain, so we’re all for unique outdoor areas, big lounging luxury, lots of drinks stations, and plenty of different cooking methods like braais, slow cookers, pizza ovens – lots of al fresco dining options.
SLOW: Any exciting trends in 2018 you can share with readers?
K.S: Unique and authentic designs – your own ideas, your own styles, and the appreciation of art and handcrafted experiences. Everyone has seen everything and done it all now, so creating unique encounters will set you apart.
SLOW: Lastly, what advice do you have for budding female entrepreneurs?
K.S: Don’t give up. Always have grit. Do everything with grace. “Hard work” are two words thrown around quite easily. Everyone believes they work hard, but if you really want something you have to live it, eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. The rewards are there, but nothing is just given to you. Nothing happens for anyone who feels entitled. You have to push yourself and keep trying, even when you feel broken. Balance and restoration is also key – you have to make sure you are maintaining what’s important to you, as you can never get moments back with family, friends, kids, or loved ones.
For more information, please visit www.something-different.co.za.