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Kapula: Ilse Appelgryn

A small-town manufacturer lights up the export market

Monique Verduyn



Ilse Applegryn

High school teacher Ilse Appelgryn was retrenched in 1993, she turned to a family hobby – candle making – to keep her busy. What started as a small business operating from her kitchen table at her home in Bredasdorp has become an international export company that also supplies local retail giants like Woolworths, as well as speciality stores in shopping malls and tourist destinations. A major international client is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It was Andre, her husband and business partner, who suggested the name, a phonetic spelling of what he called “a coupla candles”. Today Kapula produces well over two million candles a year.

Appelgryn funded the business herself and growth was gradual and organic. “My overheads were initially low,” she says. “We eventually moved to a factory in 1995 after we received orders from Japan, the US and Europe. We also had to do extensive research at the time, to comply with export standards.” Her first client was a friend who owns a craft shop in the town. The candles sold so well that Appelgryn took a shoebox full to several retailers in Cape Town. “After securing the first few customers we began to get a lot of exposure in magazines,” she says. “People were attracted to the bold colours and geometric designs. We were the first local company to manufacture candles with hand painted wax designs. In 2003 we added hand painted ceramic ware to our range.” The company really took off following the move to the factory, which was when Andre decided to join the business. Appelgryn notes that systems and processes had to be put in place rapidly to accommodate the sudden explosion in customer demand. “We went from 12 people to 43 to 100 in the space of a year,” she says. “The first thing we did was to employ a bookkeeper to take care of the financial side.” What distinguishes the company is the quality of its candles which are made from superior wax and wicks, as well as the standard of its designs, which range from ethnic to ultra contemporary.

Appelgryn opened Kapula’s first store in Bredasdorp in 1999. “The Gallery, which is housed in a beautiful old building in the town, showcases our vast range of handcrafted candles and ceramic homeware and it’s a popular tourist stop. It also gives visitors the opportunity to view the artistic talents of our employees.” Kapula first exhibited internationally at a trade fair in Singapore in 1998. This opened the door to the international market and a partnership was set up with a German representative. Exports now make up more than 70% of Kapula’s business. Its overseas customers are serviced from Kapula’s stores in Berlin, Hannover, Hamburg and Munich. “The Berlin shop was the first to open overseas, and we launched it in conjunction with our German partner,” says Appelgryn. “It’s been a success financially and also because it helped us to establish a foothold in the European market.” In 2001, Kapula bought Candle Wise, a manufacturer of handcrafted candles, and relocated the factory, including equipment and staff, to Bredasdorp. Appelgryn has developed Kapula’s people into a highly skilled labour force, over 90% of whom are drawn from the surrounding community. “We have spent over R1 million on skills development, training our employees in the art of candle and ceramics decorating,” Appelgryn says, noting that the investment has been well worth it. Training takes place over a three-month period, with a further six months required on the production line before employees can master the technical and artistic processes. She notes the importance of identifying trends in the homeware and décor sector, as well as the need to focus on product development and enhancement. “In addition to making seasonal products for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, for example, we also experiment with colours, designs and shapes to make sure that our products are always fashionable.”

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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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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