What gets you out of the bed in the morning?
Mainly my son at the moment, who I take to waterpolo practice early every morning.
I’m not your traditional designer type person. I’m creative obviously, because that is how I’ve managed to get my business up and running. I get really excited about running my business and making sure that it succeeds, as much as I love the creative side. Creativity is not something that flows for nine hours of your day either. If it were so, you’d just exhaust yourself, so I put some of that energy towards a healthy workflow. I find the manufacturing part of my business stimulating, but sometimes frustrating, and then there’s the management of sales. Sometimes people that are too design focused become frustrated because they only stay in a creative mindset. It’s about finding a balance in what you do. I regularly need to caution myself and take time off and do something different or you start feeling as if you’re inside a hamster wheel.
Do you think there is too much creativity and too little business in South African fashion?
Yes, I am afraid there is. Good designers must decide if they are great and need a business partner or decide that they’ll apply themselves to business. When people don’t balance the creative/ business formula, I think it becomes a problem. If I could start again I would definitely have done a business course when I left school to understand the fundamentals of business before designing.
I spent many, many years in quite a dark place from a business point of view and from a financial point of view too. Fashion designers sometimes lose focus and want to do it all. They want to do the selling, retail, design and financials. To be financially free you have to focus, put time aside and make sure you have the right skills to fulfil your dream. You have certain sacrifices, which go with your choices. One of mine was letting go of extreme creativity in order to appeal to a wider fashion audience. I asked myself what would give me the most satisfaction at the end of the day?
What is a typical working day for you?
I have five people in my studio that form part of my committed team. We cannot function as independent bubbles, so there’s a lot of overlap. This means that nobody in my team, including myself, can say I’m doing a certain function and that’s all. My favourite quote at the moment is, “I’m a great team player, as long as you listen to me!”
I’m very inspired by colour and it drives me to see beautiful colours and things put together well. I look at the small things, such as when I cleared out our pattern-making room the other day, found some old tins of dye, left-over from an old show. It’s now the inspiration for a new range of mine. I’m also opening my first store in November in Durban, and I’m excited about how to convey my personality and things that make me happy through the decor.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Your inspiration is pretty much about lifestyle. Sometimes I might walk outside and I see a woman walking down the street that sparks something in me, I become inspired by that person. She might be wearing a clashing outfit with florals and stripes, but it would just ignite something in me. I don’t look at trend websites often, but I like to when I get the time. Botanical themes play a role in the decor of my house and this inspires my design stuff. The seasons obviously have an influence and international trends too. I also enjoy relaxing in front of the television and might be inspired by the opening credits. It can be as simple as that.
What tips would you give to a budding fashion designer in South Africa?
Do a business course or make sure you have a sound business plan. Honestly, it’s not even about how hard you work, it’s about the love you put into your work and the passion that goes with it. Unfortunately, I see a generation of expectancy, that does not sit well with me.
I would caution anyone against expecting to do well without putting in the necessary amount of work. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you love it, it won’t seem like hard work, it will come naturally. I see a lot of people wanting to be designers who should not even have begun.
What is your ultimate aspiration for Colleen Eitzen?
I don’t allow myself to think too long-term. I think it can be dangerous. I get a sense of what’s right and wrong, but as a human being, not as a designer. Travel is very important for me and if I can combine work with travel then that would be ideal.
Does anything dismay you when you look at South African fashion?
Imitations of my products and cheap Chinese goods. I’ve had my garments pirated so many times. It’s become so bad that at one of my stores you’ll find an imitation for sale next door at a cheaper price! The managers of these malls also don’t want to get involved and it just makes my blood boil.
What is your earliest recollection of wanting to be a fashion designer?
I wanted a pair of wet-look boots in the late 1960s when I was seven or eight years old. I remember nagging my mother endlessly for them and she eventually got them for me. The worst part of this was that I couldn’t take them off myself and my mother had to haul them off for me. They were stuck to my legs like glue. I’ve never been inspired to introduce them into any of my collections. I’ll do the shoe thing when the time is right.