_THEY SOLD AN IPHONE TO START THE RU BRAND
_ RU ZINE ISSUE TWO
When it comes to luxury leather goods, is it about a fancy brand name and an exorbitant price tag, or is it about quality, style and longevity? It seems somewhere along the way, the lines have become blurred. This is where South African progressive brand Research Unit (RU) come in. They’re redefining what progressive luxury means and bringing handcrafted quality leather goods to the fore.
Erin-Lee, founder of RU, broadcast and fashion Journalist, started to research exactly what went into the making of high quality leather, looking closely at elements such as, detail, stitching and finishings. Being dissatisfied with what kind of leather product was made and available in South Africa, she decided to make her own. Purchasing offcuts of leather,she began to experiment on her bedroom floor. Several cut marks in the wooden floors and the unintentional dying of bed linen later, the first few prototypes of the ‘ELP 710’ range were born.
Chad, Managing Director, co-owner and Industrial Designer with his background in design and engineering, saw an opportunity, to take what Erin-Lee was doing to the next level. The pair decided they needed to learn everything they could about the craft, and so naturally, being Gen-Yers, they went straight to Youtube. Thousands of videos later, with a much better grasp of what was required, they sought out more practical advice and the mentorship of Noor Haywood of JL Maister, master saddlery in down-town Cape Town. Here they learnt the old techniques of working with leather hands-on, dying, threading and sewing. The business was rebranded, taking both of their contributions into account as a ‘unit’ and bringing in the element of research. The name Research Unit was a natural choice and the abrieviation ‘RU’ would allow the business to eventually expand.
They used a second ingenious Gen-Y method to raise capital when no-one would give them any... they took out a 24-month iPhone contract, sold the phone and used this R5500 as start up capital, paying the instalments back monthly.
A Weekend after their wedding, they showcased their products as Emerging Creatives at Design Indaba in 2012, showcasing every product they had on show and went home with an order for a further 80! Suddenly the possibility of a real business became apparent. Roping in everyone they trusted to execute the quality they were after, they spent hours sewing well into the early hours of the morning.
The success of RU is due to this dynamic pair who complement each other in every way. Although Chad will tell you he’s not a big chatter and that Erin-Lee is the face of the brand, the passion he has simply spills out as he tells their story. A simple billfold design has become the brand’s flagship piece and the range now includes backpacks, shoppers, clutches, laptop bags as well as the new the very popular Berliner Duffle Bag and latest bucket bag. Each piece is designed and made from high quality first grade natural vegetable tanned leather, sourced in South Africa and with high technology canvas. Each piece bears the RU branding and is backed by a 10 year quality guarantee.
It’s easy to see how the dynamic pair have won awards for best customer service and having a great expandable start-up. Chad and Erin-Lee now works full time in the business.
In 2014, they opened their store in the upmarket V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. They also opened a successful pop-up store in Berlin, Germany, called OBSERVATORY in 2015 and are looking to do the same in the U.K and the United States of America.
This pair are the true epitome of trailblazers; young and energised with a compelling desire to succeed. What will set them apart from others will be a potent combination of the right attitude, strong worth ethic and most of all,a quality product that speaks for itself.
In an age where factories churn out copy-cat rubbish for mass consumption, a business like Research Unit pares back that consumerism and takes things back to basics. This self-taught pair have taken new-age techniques and applied them to an age old art form and the leather goods luxury market in South Africa will be all the better for it.
_by Julie Velosa
Crush Magazine Online