Erin-lee, Founder, broadcast journalist and co-owner of RESEARCH UNIT (RU) started to research exactly what went into the making of high quality leather and high technology fabric products, looking closely at elements such as, detail, stitching and finishings. Being dissatisfied with what kind of leather product was made 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 and tack specialists in down-town Cape Town. Here they learnt the old techiques of working with leather hands-on – dying, threading, 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 the cash 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 bill fold design has become the brand’s flagship piece and the range now includes backpacks, shoppers, clutches, laptop bags, iPad covers as well as the new the very popular Berliner Duffle Bag and latest bucket bag from their DARK MATTER Collection. Each piece is designed and made from high quality first grade natural vegetable (organic)tanned leather, sourced in South Africa and with high technology canvas which also has a water repellent nature. Each piece bears the RU branding and is backed by a 10 year quality guarantee.
It’s easy to see how the dynamic pair were awarded runners-up in the South African Breweries Kickstart program. Kickstart aims to empower youth businesses with the provision of funds and mentorship, helping grow brands into commercial successes.
RU has also been awarded the Sage Cape Talk Small Business Award – voted into the competition by a customer who experienced excellent customer service.
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’ve also opened a concept pop up store in Berlin, Germany, called OBSERVATORY,which is a beautiful gallery and showcases the full RU range to the European market and are now looking to do the same pop up concept in London and other cities of the world . 
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
Our Inspiration:
“We only design products that ‘we’ need and this seems to resonate with our customers . It makes us more than happy to see a customer happy with our product, therefore customers are very important to us. We follow all trends both local and international, by following progressive brands on a daily basis, through social media platforms, blogs, websites, walking, window shopping, anywhere really.
We really spend a lot of our time choosing high quality and progressive,cool fabric and leather. We think a lot. Sleep little. Work hard, but let it be fun. Change is very good,sometimes what used to work,might not always. Seeking guidance is imperative.
We rely on our innovative thinking to rethink processes and apply the ancient techniques to our manufacturing process to produce a superior product craft in Africa for the World.
The world hasn’t seen AFRICA yet…” Erin-Lee and Chad Petersen
Where to find us:
Shop 44
The Watershed
V&A Waterfront
Cape Town
RU Pop-Up
Neighbourgoods Market Cape Town  
RU Press: Awards and Accolades
e.TV: The Forerunners
Morning Live, SABC 2 interview
WINNERS of the Cape Talk Sage One Small Business award 2014
Watch the video