There may be doom and gloom surrounding theSouth African textile and clothing manufacturing industry, but a pair of youngentrepreneurs are proving the pessimists wrong. Through their innovative onlinecompany, Springleap.com, Eric Edelstein and Eran Eyal are simultaneouslyboosting the South African textile industry, giving designers much-neededexposure and a passive income stream – and making money for themselves.
Springleap’s unique business model revolvesaround an interactive website that allows aspiring designers to submit theirdesigns for t-shirts. These are available to view on the website and Springleapregistered users vote for their favourite designs online each month. Thewinning designer receives a cash prize of over R7 000, one of each of the 24t-shirts designs of that month, limited edition posters of their work, varioussponsored prizes and Springleap prints a run of t-shirts with their design onthe front and their name on the back. In addition, they earn money each timeone of their t-shirts is sold, providing them with a recurring passive incomestream. “From the designer’s point of view, all of this gives them fantasticexposure, and, because the website is interactive, the public posts comments oneach of the designs, giving the artist direct feedback on what works and whatdoesn’t,” says Eyal.
Each month, the t-shirts of winners andrunners-up (24 new designs in total) are sold through partner stores that enjoyexclusivity on the designs for a 30-day period. “Each month, a new competitionstarts and any t-shirts that have not been sold are taken back by Spring-leapand then sold to approved vendors or directly through the website itself,”explains Eyal. The beauty of the model, he adds, is that Springleap is printingdesigns that the public has specifically indicated they like. “This means wehave a captive market that has voted for designs and is then able to go outdirectly and purchase them,” he says. Garment quality has played an importantrole in the success of the business and further increased the desirability ofthe t-shirts. “We only source the best South African cotton and yarn for thet-shirts, which means that we end up with a 100% South African export qualityproduct that has a unique local design on it and that people will want to buyand wear,” he explains. It also means that retail outlets that sell thet-shirts are able to move these local products off their shelves quickly.“We’re hoping all this proves that the local garment manufacturing industry issustainable and can compete with internationally imported items,” says Eyal.
He speaks from first-hand experience. Theidea for Springleap came about after Eyal and Edelstein opened up a chain offashion-and-coffee boutiques, known as E2, in Cape Town and Durban. “Some ofour stock was coming in from overseas but we battled to get good qualityt-shirts and many of the designs were not authentic. At the same time, we knewmany local artists who had some brilliant designs but of course were not ableto carry the cost of manufacturing a range of t-shirts themselves,” heexplains. Because the industry works on a consignment basis, a healthy cashflow, wide range of designs and deep print run is needed to create asustainable t-shirt manufacturing business. Eyal continues: “It’s clearly notviable for a struggling individual artist but we realised that we could createa platform that would allow us to access great designs, sell high qualityt-shirts that the public had said they wanted to buy, give exposure and incometo the artists and boost a flagging local garment industry. It’s a win-winsituation all round!” They knew that the key to the success ofthe venture would lie in being able to channel traffic through the website.Fortunately, Edelstein is an old hand at internet and search engineoptimisation (SEO) marketing. Eyal explains: “We got people’s online socialnetworks, Facebook and blogs involved. We also leveraged the database that we’dbuilt up through E2 as this was the market that would be interested in buyingthe t-shirts.”
The pair used some interesting guerrillamarketing tactics, as Eyal outlines: “Eric ran an online competition to findthe King of SEO and offered a prize to anyone who could knock Springleap to thetop of Google on a particular day at a particular time. People started writingabout Springleap on their blogs and some people even opened websites dedicatedentirely to what Springleap was all about.” Needless to say, word got around,designers started submitting designs and the public started voting. “In thefirst month the site was only up for half of the month and we had 67 designssubmitted. From there it’s just grown each month,” he says. The fact that the public buys and wears thet-shirts plays no small part in increasing Springleap’s exposure exponentiallyas well. This, coupled with the international exposure made possible by theinternet has led to some exciting opportunities. “We’ve been approached by aHollywood film company that’s interested in putting actors in our t-shirtson-set. Its early days still but it would be incredibly exciting if it cameoff,” says Eyal. Contact: +27 82 717 3802; +27 82 926 5747; www.springleap.com