I love a good product, but even more than that I love a good story, and Bamboo Revolution Watches is an awesome entrepreneurship story. Director Amy de Castro founded the brand with fellow students whilst studying an entrepreneurship programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT), when they had to conceptualise a sustainable product for a project. They went on to launch it in August 2012. In February 2013, seeing the potential of the project, then 22-year-old Amy bought out her three partners, and started pursuing the vision she had for the brand. Now, a couple of years later, she supplies over 35 stores in South Africa, and exports to eight countries around the world. Can I take a moment right there and say ‘Yassss Skattie yassss!’ I love these watches, especially the one with the long straps, that’s the one I wear. I also love that they use eco-sustainable bamboo – 10 green points right there. So I sat down with Amy to chat about this business journey she’s been on for the last couple of years.
Firstly, I’m curious about the eco-sustainability element and how you decided on bamboo.
The whole face is made from bamboo, including the dial. We were really inspired by the bamboo before we even came up with the watch concept. We loved its beauty, versatility, and intrinsic value, and that it requires no pesticides or fertilizers to grow. We thought of a functional product that people use everyday that we could make out of bamboo, in a way that would keep it in its simplest and purest form, but still be a statement piece. We had never seen a bamboo watch at that point.
Do you make other products out of the bamboo? Like sunglasses?
No, we don’t, we focus on the watch brand. We get asked a lot but watches are much more technical, and it took us two years to perfect the quality and the features of the watch, so we want to focus on what we’re good at and become a leading sustainable international wristwatch brand.
Have there been any hectic challenges in terms of developing your brand and business?
Everyday presents new opportunities and challenges, but that’s what I love about entrepreneurship. The biggest challenge is probably the product itself. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s never good enough, there’s always room for improvement. We also learnt early on that watchmaking is not something that’s done in South Africa. So we import the face component of the watch, we source our leather locally, get the straps made locally, and assemble it all locally.
So how has the response been?
Overwhelming! On launch day we sold a 100 watches in a space of four hours. That was when I really realized that this product had huge potential. From then on it was just a whirlwind, we started doing markets and things happened really quickly. We got into magazines, and shops started approaching us, which I think says something about the product. It was a little surprising, because there are so many watch brands out there that are established and well known.
You’re in 35 shops across the country at the moment, where else do you trade?
We also sell online through our website, and we have eight distributors in eight different countries at the moment, UK, Germany, Iceland, and more. Locally, some of the big retailers have approached us, but at this stage we’re not trying to sell thousands to a huge retailer. We’re being selective and stocking boutique stores that align well with our brand, stores we can build long-term relationships with, instead of just flooding the market.
Has exporting been a big challenge?
Building this as an international brand has been challenging. In hindsight it’s also been the best thing because I’ve kind of been thrown in the deep end, and just had to do it. I would encourage anyone who wants to export to just do it. Once you have your documentation in place, vat number, export number, and all those things, it is so doable. Exporting has also helped us up our quality, because in some countries standards are higher. When you look at the whole world, you see that limiting yourself to South Africa is limiting yourself to a small market. There’s so much opportunity out there.
Shop the Bamboo Revolution watches here: http://bamboorevolutionsa.com
Interview by Malibongwe Tyilo