They say there are two hallmarks of atrue entrepreneur: great ideas and the ability to execute them. Tonia Zorbashas both these qualities. While travelling in Australia the former UCT marketingstudent spotted a novel business concept and identified a niche for it in theSouth African market. The company’s called Fashion Exchangeand the idea is a simple one, as Zorbas explains: “We organise clothingexchange events. Many women have high quality clothes, accessories and shoesthat are lightly worn or nearly new but that they no longer wear for a varietyof reasons. “They bring these to the Fashion Exchangeevents and are able to swap them for other items brought along by otherpatrons.”
Introducing a new idea to the market isnever easy, and Zorbas discusses some of the challenges the business initiallyfaced: “This is a totally new concept for many South African consumers. Whileit’s well established in Australia,the US and the UK, SouthAfrican consumers still need to get used to the idea of swapping clothes.” She explains how the system works:“People need to bring up to six items of clothing, and they get a correspondingnumber of tokens with which they are able to ‘purchase’ other items of clothingor accessories. They pay a fee to attend the event, but the clothes themselvesare bought with tokens.”
Zorbas adds that the key to successlies in ensuring that both the events and the clothes are of a high quality.“We screen all the items and have minimum standards that need to be met. Theyneed to be clean, lightly-worn and undamaged. Ever since our first event we’ve beenpleasantly surprised by the high quality of items that people have broughtalong. Our patrons are fashion-conscious people and the events are intimate, sono one wants to be seen bringing in sub-standard items,” she says. Events are held at up-market venues andrestaurants, and provide an evening’s entertainment. “Our launch event at the end of lastyear featured live music and champagne and was held at the Deer Park Cafe in Cape Town. It attractedaround 25 women, which we were pleased with,” says Zorbas, who uses website,Facebook and word-of-mouth to market the events.
Her plans are to concentrate onestablishing a presence in the Cape Town area before expanding to other centres. She wantsto diversify into specific areas of fashion and run events that focus solely oncertain sectors, like mothers and children or accessories. The idea is quickly gaining a devotedfashionista following and Zorbas has the passion necessary to develop itspotential: “I’ve always wanted to run my own business but I was waiting to findsomething that would excite me. I knew the minute I came across this conceptthat it was right and that I could make
it work,” she concludes.
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