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Trailblazer: Meet Hanneli Rupert, Founder of African Accessory Label Okapi

  • Interviews
  • 3 min read
The Positive Life of Hanneli Rupert, Founder of Okapi

The South African designer behind Okapi champions the farm-to-fashion concept. Capturing earthy hues and smart designs, the accessory range acts as a love letter to Africa. Ahead of World Africa Day, she tells us how her brand strives for sustainability. 

TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST CHERISHED MEMORY

I was born in Johannesburg but grew up in the Western Cape of South Africa, my most lasting childhood memories are of spending time in nature whether that be on the beach, under the mountains or in the bush.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR PASSION FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION

I studied fine arts with a focus on painting and decided I would like to try my hand at design where I could control an integrated production line which would leave a positive impact on the world, from that Okapi was born.


Image credit: Okapi

WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED AND GREW FROM?

The main challenge I faced was managing to ensure that everything I worked with was ethically sourced from Africa. I had to set out to create entirely new production lines – for example making our hardware by hand in house.

YOUR ACCESSORIES ARE CRAFTED FROM BY-PRODUCTS OF FARMING KNOWN AS ‘FARM TO FASHION’ – HOW DO YOU SOURCE THE MATERIALS?

When I first started Okapi, my focus was on having an entirely local supply chain but now I have evolved to include making that supply chain as far as possible from by-product.  The materials which we use are sourced as a by-product of the free-range farming industry in South Africa (from commonplace livestock including ostrich and blesbok). This gives further purpose to materials which would otherwise be thrown away and also contributes to the development of rural communities in South Africa. It is incredibly important to me that by working towards creating a demand for a material you are also doing something positive.

YOU CHAMPION AFRICAN DESIGN – HOW HAVE YOU AFFECTED EMPLOYMENT RATE IN THE COMMUNITIES YOU WORK WITHIN?

The big shifters in employment rates in South Africa are still industries like mining but we create stable long-lasting jobs for skilled labour and strive to change the image on the country as a source of luxury and as a destination in general so yes, I do hope we affect the employment rate.


Image credit: Okapi

TELL US ABOUT THE SUSTAINABILITY SECTOR IN AFRICA – WHAT DOES ITS FUTURE LOOK LIKE?

I think Africa has the most unique environment and I think we should be world leaders in terms of sustainable tourism. I see what I do as a reflection of the beauty of the nature that surrounds us.

YOU’VE DONE AN INCREDIBLE WORK WITH GRASSROOTS CRAFT GROUPS – HOW DO YOU EDUCATE THEM ON SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the best craftsmen in the world here in South Africa and these are skills we need to protect and hand down over generations. Some of the groups that I work with have been established for some time and we contribute to their success by placing orders with them. In other cases, I have trained the women up from scratch in order to help them achieve the quality of the products we desire. They then have these skills for life and can go on marketing them themselves thus creating sustainable jobs on the continent. From the perspective of the sustainability of the craftsmen, the very nature of the time-intensive craftsmanship involved in the work undertaken by these artisans ensures that there is a sustainable approach incorporated into what they do.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE LEGACY OF YOUR BRAND TO BE?

I think it is too soon to really answer that as I am always open to change – I would like it to be one of timelessness and long-lasting positive impact.


Image credit: Unsplash

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN LOOKING TO GET INTO YOUR INDUSTRY?

I consider my industry to be working with craftsmen across Africa helping them to shape their skills into something marketable internationally – I would encourage anyone to hone their hand skills or the hand skills of their communities in order to keep this know how alive.

WHAT IS YOUR ONE WISH FOR FASHION IN 2020?

I would like to see more individuality and less consumption. A focus on quality and individuality.

Written by - Katie Stalker

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