A Scottish ancestor, a rondavel in an Eastern Cape village, and a ‘use what you have’ attitude led Bloem entrepreneur Cherish Vundisa to design luxury leather luggage. Here he shares his story with Get It readers…
What prompted me to start designing luxury leather luggage was my love for history, culture, and heritage, and my newfound love for designing, which is something I didn’t know I could do. I also love leather and beautiful things.
The backstory on how I ‘fell’ into designing leather luggage is a captivating one. In 2018, I was visiting my father in Nqamakwe in the Eastern Cape and I came across two old leather bags in one of the rondavels in which old things, such as old Queen stoves and vinyls, are stored. I asked my dad whom the bags belonged to. He told me that they belonged to Dr James Struthers. I knew that if I were to clean one of them, it would have character. I did just that and I used the bag on campus at the UFS, where everyone asked me where I’d bought it. Dr Struthers was a medical doctor from Scotland who came to South Africa to practice. His father was a leather merchant in Edinburg, so when he came to our country he had two of his father’s bags with him. In South Africa, he fell in love with Harriet Maholwana, and I’m one of their descendants. If it weren’t for my forefather’s bags, I would have never started the luxury luggage business; hence, I named my brand Dr J. Struthers.
The luggage I design is elegant and it shares my heritage and history in a sophisticated way. It is a collector’s item, which is authentically African, designed with a global citizen in mind. The quality will stand the test of time and the luggage will be passed on from generation to generation.
Our luggage is made from Aniline leather, which is the highest quality leather. It is the softest and most supple of all leather types. The lining of the luggage is made from material resembling the Struthers clan’s Scottish tartan. Each of my products is named after living tribes from around the globe, such as the Maasai, the Inuit, and the Herero.
My maternal grandmother was a teacher and because of her, I have “visited” many countries around the world through books she read to me. She told me that books would take me anywhere in the world and I could learn a lot about the world and its children from them.
When I started the business, I was a full-time student studying Integrated Organisational Communication at the UFS. I’ve always wanted to study communication; however, I could not study immediately after school because I had to take care of my little brother after our mother died when I was 16 and he was only six years old.
I love Bloem because it’s a peaceful city; I especially love the vetkoek and snoek, which I’ve never eaten anywhere else! I was born at the city’s Pelonomi Hospital and I grew up here and in Sterkspruit.
I strongly believe in supporting local businesses, as it makes our economy stronger. I’m impressed with businesses such as GigCulture because they focus on empowering businesses in Central South Africa.
Collaborations are a great way to expand brand presence, especially when brands complement each other. At Dr J Struthers, we’re always open to collaborations.
I’m a serial entrepreneur and in five years’ time, I see myself in fields other than luxury goods, such as tourism, film, hospitality and farming.
My role models are Bassie Kumalo, who went from the ghetto to glam; Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, who went from a village to the world; Theo Baloyi, who went from a 9 to 5 job to creating jobs; and Karen Zoid for consistency in her music career.
Starting a business is never easy, especially when you have financial challenges; however, I’ve learnt that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
My advice for young entrepreneurs is ‘Start, just start!’ Use what you have; and don’t wait for tomorrow.
TEXT: Margaret Linström