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Earthchild: Jonathan Katz

Perseverance and differentiation pay off for local fashion label.

Juliet Pitman



Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz, founder and managing director of Earthchild Clothing Group, is the first to admit that the clothing industry is not for the fainthearted. He should know, having entered the business with what he describes as ‘zero knowledge’ of the industry. “It’s expensive, susceptible to general economics and highly competitive,” he says. Cheap Asian imports, the influx of big-name labels and the global recession haven’t made things any easier for the local fashion market.

These hurdles make the success of the Earthaddict and Earthchild clothing brands all the more impressive. With 20 stores operating in some of South Africa’s most exclusive retail shopping centres, the brands have secured their place in the niche aspirational fashion market – no mean feat for a local fashion label. Katz’s recipe for success includes tenacity, true differentiation, a single minded focus on building a niche brand and the ability to adapt global lessons to a local business.

Never give up

In the late 90s Katz was selling the company’s clothing range from a spare room at home, but demand from word-of-mouth customers was growing and the business needed to take its first leap into acquiring retail space. “Right from the word go I wanted this to be a niche fashion brand, so when it came to getting a store, it was critical that we were in the right retail centre.

The V&A Waterfront was the perfect position,” he explains. Perfect it may have been but accessible it was not. With only 100 stores available and 900 applicants, among them some of the big name international fashion labels, the Earthchild Clothing Group’s chance of securing a spot were slim. “We were unknown without any proof of concept, but I wanted that store,” Katz relates. He set about getting it through pure perseverance. “I called the gentleman in charge of leasing and I just about harassed him into seeing me. I said to him, ‘Just give me ten minutes’ and eventually he caved and gave me a meeting slot three weeks down the line,” he says. The first flagship store opened in 1997, with Katz repeating the performance in securing a second store in the exclusive Hyde Park Shopping Centre within six months.

Building a niche brand through true differentiation

But tenacity wasn’t the only reason the brand got off to a flying start. Katz’s vision to create an aspirational niche fashion label has been behind all of the company’s best decisions. “I believe we got the store at the V&A Waterfront, and the later one in Hyde Park, because people saw something different in the brand. I knew that to make it in the industry, there would have to be something more to our clothing than just fashion appeal. In order to build a niche brand, you have to create something that’s aspirational,” he says. The brand’s identity is founded on easy-to-wear clothing made from superior fabrics, with inspiration drawn from the natural fibres and tones of the earth. A large percentage of the clothes are made from organic cotton and the company was well ahead of the market in establishing itself as a luxury brand that cares about the planet. In 2006 the company founded the Earthchild Project, an NGO that focuses on the education and well-being of children from historically disadvantaged groups, further cementing its standing as a responsible brand with a social conscience and imbuing the brand with additional value.

Together, Earthaddict and Earthchild cater to three generations, from newborns to 60-plus-year-olds, giving the brand a wide market scope. Drawing on global lessons Katz has also learned from the lessons of others in the global fashion industry. At one time, the company owned the full design, manufacture and retail value chain, employing 80 seamstresses in a factory. As Katz points out, however, this is a hefty undertaking for a small business. “Clothing design, clothing manufacture and clothing retail are all very specific and come with their own requirements and challenges,” he says. An experiment outsourcing the manufacture of the clothing to a local
concern turned out to be a disaster. “We were a small fish in their big pond and didn’t get the attention and service that we needed,” he explains. It was only when he was invited to a fashion trade show in Las Vegas that he started to understand the concept of global outsourcing. “However, we’ve always been proudly local so I wanted to keep everything in Africa,” he says. His solution lay in outsourcing manufacture to Mauritius and Madagascar, both of which are considered part of the African continent. The arrangement is working well, although Katz points out that it’s still important to control the quality in the supply chain.

Keeping exclusive

In spite of the brands’ success, he’s cautious about growing too quickly. “I think it‘s a mistake to open too many stores at once. You need to be careful about diluting the brand offering,” he says. To this end he’s highly selective about which locations he’ll sign the brands to. “The right retail centre is not enough – it has to be the right store in the right location within the right retail centre,” he explains.
And although the company receives plenty of enquiries from people wanting to open stores abroad, Katz is just as selective on this front. “We’ve got one proof of concept store in Canada but we’ll enter the international market when the time is right,” he says, outlining the company’s plans to establish a critical mass of ten to fifteen stores in a single territory before further expansion.

Player: Jonathan Katz
Est: 1992
+27 21 511 3010


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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Company Posts

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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