Justine Schafer
Creative Director, Cape Cobra

Industry: Handbags and Accessories
WPO Cape Town I Chapter
WPO Member Since: 201745

How has being a WPO member helped your business?
As a young woman in business, I always struggled to connect with friends my age, as our missions were just so different. When I joined the WPO Cape Town I Chapter, I was the youngest person and I was a little worried that I would be out of place. On the contrary, I finally met a group of women who shared my concerns, values, and passion for work and had the same drive and energy to juggle the daily thrills that one’s business brings. Sharing advice and learning from the experiences of my WPO peers has been an incredible help in guiding me through challenges. It’s like having 15 business coaches in one room – and each comes with their own real experience – not just “textbook” advice.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?
Even though I work in the fashion industry, a lot of my time is spent in the tanning and farming industry, as we do a lot of research into the sourcing and sustainability of our raw materials. This part of the industry is very chauvinistic and male-dominated – as a woman, one can often feel shut down and ignored.

As the years have passed, I have noticed the need for increased synergy and cohesion across the entire value chain of our industry becoming a main priority.

What inspired you to become a leader in business?
My grandparents started our family business in 1972 in their living room in Cape Town, and we have since grown to over 65 people. After studying fashion design in Cape Town and at Parsons in New York, I joined the team 11 years ago. I have loved learning the intricacies of the business, the handcraft, and the beauty of our leathers – and most of all I have loved working with my team, who are more like family.

What’s your favorite WPO event you’ve attended? Why?
In general, I would say that I thoroughly enjoy every one of our sessions, as they always inspire me, motivate me, and give me a feeling of belonging. My first ever WPO group experience was the WPO 20th Annual Conference in 2017, and all I can say is “WOW!!!!” I loved how friendly, supportive, encouraging, and approachable everyone was. I was accepted into the “sisterhood” immediately. The energy and positivity were absolutely mind-blowing.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Be confident.

What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
Follow your intuition. Stay true to yourself, and always work with integrity.

How has your business pivoted or changed during COVID-19? Have you started any new initiatives?
Unfortunately, handbags became somewhat “non-essential” during COVID; we started producing non-medical facemasks and are currently expanding our range to home accessories (picture frames, jewelry boxes, desk pads, etc.), as well as developing a leather range of bags at a more competitive price point. We have ventured more into corporate gifting, gifting for donations, and small leather accessories.

Our core business remains handbags – however, we have pivoted and re-invented certain categories to bridge the gap until we can figure out our “new normal.” We are blessed in that we own our own factory, and thus we can easily expand our product range and categories.

We have also launched an initiative whereby we donate a portion of all our sales to a chapter peer’s non-profit organization, ChangeMakersHub. This has been an incredible incentive for our clients to give back to the underprivileged communities of South Africa.

Connect with Justine:
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