Feat. is a playful, designer-led brand based in the beautiful city of Cape Town. Their aim is to evoke delight from the everyday beauty we sometimes take for granted. We couldn't resist the chance of learning more about this brand and we're even more excited to share Chelsey’s story with our readers.
Can you tell us a little about the history of your brand? How did it get started, and what motivated you to create it?
Feat was started back in 2012, purely as a designer sock business. From a very young age, I always had a little obsession with fun socks, and when I finished my fashion design studies and was looking for a business opportunity, I couldn’t find any socks that were designed and produced in South Africa, so it seemed like a great place to start. Socks felt like a fun mini-canvas to express my creativity on, and even though I studied fashion design and knew how to create patterns and sew, a huge part of my creative journey was wrapped up in illustration and telling stories. Now I have added more product options to the brand, including stationery and memory games. The thread that runs through all of these product additions is the opportunity to apply my illustrations onto new surfaces.
What inspires your designs? Are there any particular influences or themes that you draw upon in your work?
Along with my life-long love of socks, I have always been curious about experiencing and illustrating the natural world. I specifically love birds and plant life, so you’ll see a lot of these themes on my socks and stationery. I also love grabbing every opportunity to celebrate South Africa, and all the natural beauty there is to enjoy here.
What are some of the challenges you've faced as a local South African brand, and how have you overcome them?
Local production feels like a mine field sometimes. Firstly, the clothing production industry in SA is dwindling, so there are so few sock manufacturers left in SA. Those that are still around often prioritise orders for large local retailers, so getting them to partner with you as a small business can take a lot of convincing, and sometimes require a lot of follow-up just to get them to stick to lead times. Load shedding has made this even more challenging, which is expected. The main way I’ve overcome these issues is to become very planned, often designing and planning ranges more than 3 months in advance to safeguard if there are delays. But I don’t get it right all the time and I sometimes have to keep customers waiting for reruns of popular designs, and it is never fun to disappoint customers.
Can you tell us about some of the materials and techniques you use in your designs? How do you choose the materials you work with?
Our socks are made from a high percentage of cotton, which is super durable and means we can guarantee our clients that their socks will last a long time. The remaining tiny percentage is a combination of nylon and elastane which keeps the detailed designs from fraying and gives the socks enough stretch. I design the socks on Adobe Illustrator, and the manufacturers then take my design and “digitize” them into the software that corresponds with their knitting machines. Sock designing requires a lot of knowledge about the level of detail the machinery can take. The saying “less is more” is definitely true of this process - learning to simplify my ideas into a format that works for the knitting machines while still keeping staying true to the idea that I want to express has been quite a journey, but I think I’ve finally cracked it in the last few years. My husband, Johan, joined me in the business in 2020, and has also started designing with me, so I’ve had to pass on this understanding, which has been fun and interesting. Our paper goods allow for a lot more detail, so we get to use apps like Procreate to illustrate for these products. This is even more fun for us, as we get to go a little “wild” in comparison to sock designing.
How do you approach sustainability and ethical practices in your brand? Are there any initiatives or practices you've implemented to reduce your environmental impact?
We focus a lot on reducing waste and reusing whatever we can in our business. This is the main way that we can keep things ethical and sustainable in practice. We reuse packaging as much as we can, and we purchase all the overruns and rejects from our manufacturers, and offer these to our clients at discounted prices. When we have stock that isn’t selling as we’d like, we donate them to those in need. For gift fairs and trade shows, we have been reusing display stands that we’ve had since the business began, just giving them a new lick of paint or adding new graphics when we have a rebrand. It might sound strange, but we also focus a lot on marketing our products ethically. I am not about manipulating customers to buy something that they don’t need, as this is not something I practice in my own life. I encourage customers to only buy things that will add value to their lives, and if they think that our products will do that, then yay! This is why I have only ever created products that I would want to use myself. They’re beautiful, but also useful, that is important to me. All of these things sound little, but they have an accumulative impact, and for me it is important that our mindset is long-term in nature, and not just about once-off initiatives that don’t have lasting impact on how we engage with our products, packaging, merchandising and customers.
Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories or anecdotes about your brand or your products?
What happens behind-the-scenes at Feat is all kinds of messy-beautiful to be honest. Johan and I both work from home, for the same business, and we share the load of looking after our son Billy who is now 6 months old. In between answering emails, distributing orders and designing new products, we’re sterilizing bottles, changing nappies, trying to squeeze in a nap and bake some healthy snacks for Billy who is now eating solids. But we wouldn’t want it any other way! We love that we both get to spend so much time with Billy and watch him grow up. But we honestly couldn’t do it without the help of our amazing parents, our supportive church family, and what I call Johan’s new “best friend”, ChatGPT. Gotta love the age of information!
What do you hope customers will experience or feel when they interact with your brand and products?
I hope that customers will feel inspired to enjoy the beauty around them, to get outside for a hike or a swim in the sea or take notice of the birds that frequent their garden. It’s so easy to just get wrapped up in busy-ness and miss all the wonder around us. If our socks and paper goods can remind customers to get curious and keep their eyes peeled, then I’m super happy!
How do you see your brand evolving in the future? Are there any new projects or collaborations in the works?
The introduction of memory games into our business has brought with it a tidal wave of ideas and inspiration for me. They have become our most popular product since their launch in August 2022, and we plan to continue adding new themes as quickly as our little fingers can illustrate them. We have three variations (Bird Life of SA, Sea Life of SA and Flowers of SA), and we’re currently working on the fourth. I think that once we reach 5 or 6 variations, we will branch out into even more activity-focused paper products, all with a focus on learning about our beautiful ecosystems in South Africa. This really gets me excited; especially since we had our Billy in October last year, I love the idea of creating products that we can use to teach him as he gets older.
What advice would you give to other local South African brands looking to succeed in the industry? OR What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own brand or business?
Whenever I am asked this question, my answer is always the same. Start with one thing and really commit to it for at least 3 years. That’s the only way that you’ll discover if your idea has legs. Testing something for a few months, or even a year, just isn’t long enough. It’s such a process to get your brand recognized, build customer loyalty and discover more about your niche and your product. For me, I had to focus only on socks for over five years before I could branch out into new products. This is partly because, being a creative, I can get distracted easily and every time I tried new products, my ideas weren’t fully formed enough to really work. But mainly it took me really getting to grips with all things socks, so that I could do that on autopilot, before I could really succeed with new things. This journey and time frame won’t be the same for everyone, but I have seen small businesses around us fizzle out because of distraction and confusion many times, so I always tell people to avoid the impulse to try too much too soon. Slow is fast.
Finally, Can you share with us some of your favorite products or collections that you have created, and why they are special to you?
In 2017, I designed a capsule sock collection inspired by a camping trip around Iceland with two of my close friends. It had been a dream to visit Iceland for years, and when I finally went it was everything I had ever dreamed of! Being able to express the beauty of the country and our trip around it in a 5-piece collection was so much fun, and it was so exciting that so many customers loved the designs as much as I did. The Birds of SA Memory Game that we launched our memory game concept with in 2022 is also very dear to my heart. I have been a bird lover since I was a little girl, and I love playing games with my friends and family, so this game was the merging of these two loves (actually three because it was such fun to illustrate too), so it will always be special to me.
We at Rock Paper Scissors have always felt so inspired by Chelsey and are very proud to be stocking some of our favourite Feat. products in the shop. Come and have a browse of our range of Feat socks
in store at The Old Mushroom Farm.