DURBAN – A wedding bouquet without real flowers. Would that really work? One entrepreneur has put on his thinking cap and come up with some unique ideas.
The first thing you need to accept about flowers says KZN artist and businessman Sphmandla Mdluli is that they are very expensive and will only live for a few days.
It’s this idea, he says that got him started on creating a range of wedding accessories from floral halos and bouquets to wedding cake decoration, that would last, not just as images in photographs, but in real time “for your whole life.”
He tells his story like this: “I was at a beautiful wedding. There had been no expense spared. The bride carried these lovely white lilies and roses. The bridesmaids also had lovely flowers and the groom and the groomsmen all had fancy buttonholes.”
He says that watching this event made him realize that there was a marketing opportunity that might work.
“It just seemed so sad to me that all these flowers had been cut for this one occasion and that the next day they would be all dying. What if you could have flowers that lasted for ever and you could show your children and your grandchildren – and they could touch them?”
Mdluli says he is one of those people that once he gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t let go of it.
“I spent the next few days with my sketchbook and pencils making drawings of flowers and leaves and thinking how I could do the same in beads. We have brilliant beaders in KZN, the best I think in the world. If I could come up with something with a real wow factor, it could become a good business and give a lot of families work.”
The prototypes of his beaded wedding range have proved him right.
“I have just done my first orders and I think there will be others, because the reaction was very positive. I think a lot of brides will still want real flowers, but there is no reason why you can’t combine both ideas, with say the central part of the bouquet in beads and the outside in real flowers. These are the ideas I am playing with at the moment.”
Mdluli who comes from the Kwa Nuyswa area near Bothas Hill, says that he grew up in a family of beaders and for eight years has been making and designing the famous “Little Traveller” doll range and exotically coloured butterflies for the Woza Moya craft centre in Hillcrest.
“But I have always dreamt of doing something that will be noticed in other parts of the world. I am hoping it will be my wedding range, but I am also working on other ideas. Sometimes you have to think like that to push yourself further.”
It’s a push for uniqueness and that has worked in more ways than one for Mdluli. He points to a felt-lined work board and a row of strawberries, that look so realistic you could almost eat them.
“Paula Thomson, who runs Woza Moya, asked me if I could design and make beaded fruit, like strawberries, grapes, pineapples and water melons and turn them into jewellery, even earrings. It was something I had never done before, but I love challenges, so I made hundreds of drawings. The first ones didn’t look anything like fruit, more like blobs. But I went on practicing and perfecting them. It took a few weeks, but I think you will agree they look like the real thing.”
His fruit collection created in tandem with his team of five beaders was so good it caught the eye of a South African fashion consultant and before long he was designing a special collection for the New York Fashion week earlier this year.
“It was really a dream come true for me. If you get successful at one think, it makes you want to do more and more. That’s me right now. There are so many themes I can do for weddings that I don’t think we would ever run out of ideas. My beaders are also coming up with their own designs which is really what we need to expand the business.
Mdluli says that although he has not followed the world of fashion before, he is now taking an interest in the new trends that are making the catwalks.
“I never thought that watermelons, paw paws and oranges would have a place in international fashion, but now I know they do. So my thinking clock is definitely working overtime.”
He believes that the entrepreneur lessons he has learnt over the years have stood him in good stead.
“I know that however way out your idea is you musn’t be embarrassed to share it. When I first suggested doing a wedding range, there wasn’t huge interest, but when I brought along what I made that changed everything. Now there is a lot of excitement!”