It was almost 20 years ago that Nicola Hadfield launched the first ever interior design exhibition on the African continent with just R800 to her name. Decorex SA, which attracted 27 000 visitors in its first year, quickly became the most stylish and contemporary design show South Africans had ever seen.
In 1995, the show’s second year, she had to double the size of the space to accommodate exhibitors.
Having put South African design on the global map, Decorex SA grew rapidly and its turnover reached more than R13 million in just eight years, attracting over 100 000 visitors per annum.
She eventually sold it in 2001 to the well-known Dutch exhibition company, Rai B.V. Amsterdam.
“It was a very attractive deal, and I was suffering from serious burnout,” says Hadfield. “My creative juices had run out and I needed a break.”
Sabbatical, what sabbatical?
Taking time out was not that easy for someone who was born to be an entrepreneur. Hadfield travelled, launched a range of jewellery, published two décor books, Beautiful Homes and Beautiful Outdoors, and presented her own 13-part television series called Design Inspiration.
She also became a sought after décor trend commentator speaking at many events around the country and overseas, and consulted to property developers and architects on design, strategic branding and marketing.
At the same time, she used some of the proceeds from the Decorex deal to launch her design and consulting business Nicola Hadfield Enterprises.
“Design is my passion, and I also have a strong marketing and advertising background. The business has given me the ability to satisfy these three interests.”
Hadfield says she had long identified a gap in the market for someone who brought together traditional values with progressive new age thinking in the design and décor world, and stresses that strong business ethics have contributed to her success.
“The business is a creative hub made up of different design projects. It’s an umbrella company that allows me the freedom to explore diverse creative avenues. I work with anyone who wants to take advantage of my creative mind. I’m always looking for new ideas and I enjoy opportunities to help market and promote South African products.”
Among the challenges she has faced is learning to trust people. She relies largely on gut instinct when bringing new people on board. She’s also learnt to keep things to herself. “In the design world, it’s important to keep quiet. There are many people out there just waiting to copy you, so you have to be wary of spilling the beans too soon.”
Cashing in on lifestyle living
What’s keeping her busy right now is a new project, her biggest since Decorex SA — a creative exhibition titled A Beautiful Day (ABD) which will showcase the best in premium lifestyle living.
She notes that South Africa has a plethora of exhibitions today showcasing everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.
“With ABD I will aim to distil the masses of exhibitions by delivering a boutique-style, consumer-focused expo. The key word is ‘time’. People simply do not have the hours to visit all the shows that are on today. I’m designing ABD to look like nothing else and to bring the best in design under one umbrella for the convenience of the people who visit the expo.”
Although A Beautiful Day will be a much smaller, boutique expo than Decorex SA, Hadfield expects it to be equally successful. Set to take place in October 2013, it will showcase innovative décor, trending fashions, food and wine as part of healthier lifestyles, and awareness of ‘green’ projects in South Africa.
With Cape Town gearing to host the World Design Capital in 2014, Hadfield believes creative entrepreneurial ventures are sure to come under the spotlight as consumers are becoming increasingly aware that design permeates all aspects of life.
“As in 1994 when I started Decorex SA, South Africa is again experiencing an exciting shift in energy. Anyone with the right creative mindset has the capability to empower many — whether it is the producer or the consumer — which is exactly what I aim to do with ABD and future ventures,” she says.
Player: Nicola Hadfield
Company: Nicola Hadfield Enterprises
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