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Accesstar: Gavin Rajah

Top SA fashion designer believes in the power of the brand

Monique Verduyn



Gavin Rajah of Accesstar

Fashion guru Gavin Rajah, best known for his flair for colour and a preference for garments cut “on the bias”, became the first local fashion designer to make it onto the catwalks of Paris where he has just completed his third season. Rajah started his career in clothing while studying law at the University of Cape Town. “I needed to make extra cash so I started selling clothes to the guys in res. This was my first foray into the world of clothing design and manufacture.” The word got out and soon he received requests for evening wear. “By the time I finished my degree, I realised I was not going to have much fun as a lawyer. It was also going to be difficult to do my articles and not earn a salary so I decided to create my own fashion label.”

He launched Gavin Rajah in 2000 with a loan from his parents. His first expense was on a range to show to potential buyers and boutiques. “I started off small, working from home and outsourcing to seamstresses who would make up the designs,” he recalls. Rajah says he had no big breaks along the way, noting that the growth of his label and his brand has been a natural progression preceded by a tough learning curve. Where others had gone to fashion school, Rajah knew nothing about the basics of design. “My peers had the advantage of having already cut their teeth at technikons. Through trial and error I taught myself what I needed to know and surrounded myself with talented and experienced seamstresses.” Today, while he believes he has not yet saturated the local market, he has entrenched his brand, a feat he says results from a fine balance between creativity, marketing and business savvy. “People in the industry laugh when they hear me talk about budgets, projections and forecasts, but the business is a success because I started out thinking big. We put all the systems and processes in place from the beginning, including a sophisticated software programme that enables us to work on detailed costings. This is essential if you want to create a viable commercial product in an industry where costs are high. They don’t teach you that at fashion school. They also don’t teach you how vital it is to build a brand.”

Rajah’s local success – he has dressed celebrities like Nelson Mandela, Basetsana Khumalo, Lebo Mathosa, and Michelle McLean – was followed by international recognition. Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise are among his fans. “It’s great to be successful and profitable at home, but to really make it in the fashion world I had to look beyond our borders. Showing your work to a global audience is a very different experience.” Looking to the future, Rajah has opened his first ready-to-wear store in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg is on the cards. “It’s taken a while, but I want my retail stores to have the same feel as my studio. I also wanted to ensure the garments would be affordable for local buyers and that there would always be sufficient stock. It takes time to get these things right.” Customers will soon be able to buy Rajah’s designs online, another area on which he has been spending a lot of time to ensure that garments are made to world class standards. In addition, he has designed an accessory collection, Accesstar, which is doing well locally and overseas.“Expanding into Europe was almost like starting a new business. You have to learn the way foreigners do things. It took us five years to get it right. We now have a showroom and an agent in Paris, as well as a PR person who represents us in Europe and ensures that the brand is visible. It’s been a long process, but everyone knows who we are today.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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