Bringing African culture to first-world designs

Stanton and Carla Ashton are the dynamic husband-and-wife team behind the Thandana brand. Carla, with her flare for design and passion for creativity, started the business in 2010 and Stanton, with his vast supply chain experience and passion for creating value chains, joined the business in 2015.

“Thandana means ‘to love one another’ in Zulu culture, which is a meaningful place for our brand to grow from. The Thandana symbol is derived from ancient Zulu rock art paintings; it’s a symbol for the word ‘and’ which denotes ‘addition’ or ‘to add to’, making it fitting that the philosophy of the Thandana brand is ‘to provide the gift of authentic and enduring fabric and leather bags, handmade in South Africa’,” the couple notes.

Carla and Standton Ashton

Carla loves to give her personal touch with blending global trends in bag shapes, designs, colours and patterns with local ethnic or traditional prints. She is also inspired to design functional bags that work well, are comfortable to use and look aesthetically pleasing.

The duo describes their customer as a mix of diversity – someone who enjoys a more luxurious quality brand that gives back and stands for something great. “We have online shoppers who like to sit in the comfort of their beautiful homes and shop, and we have travelling shoppers that bask in the sun in Cape Town and shop/lunch at the V&A. Our customers’ compliments stand as a testament to the ethos we instill in our staff: to make our bags with pride while imagining that mother-to-be embracing her newborn while carrying all their essential items in one of our beautiful nappy bags, or the newly married couple on honeymoon in Mauritius, who have their names engraved on matching genuine leather luggage bags. Our brand stands for great African quality.”

Team Thandana

“Our brand stands for great African quality.”

Dealing with the nationwide lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the business to a point where the couple was forced to think out of the box to survive, they say. “Not only from a personal [perspective], but from a financial [one] as well. We coped in being reactive to the needs of our customers and quickly came up with some amazing mask designs, which we advertise on our website. Needless to say, it has without a doubt saved us from the April struggle of total country lockdown and the impact of the virus.”

Their advice to other business owners struggling to cope during lockdown, is to take the time to apply themselves further than they have ever done before. “Extend yourself to greater networks, and understand what essential voids are needed to be filled in the marketplace. This is a strange time and market that we’re living in at the moment, so there is a wealth of opportunity to use. We never imagined 10 years ago that we would be selling nappy bags to moms and three months ago, we never even thought that we would have sold over 10 000 masks within two weeks. You need to keep moving in the direction of the demand.”

How gorgeous is this clutch?

For aspiring designers and manufacturers, Stanton and Carla have the following to say:

Sisonke every day. Be authentic. Be original. The fashion industry is not for sissies, so you need to be tough and work hard. Create a legacy – not a fad. Be someone that you would like to work for and with. Never stop improving yourself or your business. You are the best brand you can market, followed by your product or service. Be kind. Be open to advice. Watch what you spend your hard-earned money on. And most importantly, be good to yourself. Stay healthy.”

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