Okapi: Luxury Handbags & Accessories Handmade in Africa
Okapi is one of Africa's first luxury brands. Founded by South African businesswoman Hanneli Rupert in 2008, the brand's exquisite, exotic handbags have become a firm favourite amongst fashionistas across the globe. Okapi works directly with indigenous farmers and tanneries, ensuring every element of an Okapi bag is 100% traceable, sustainable and ethically-sourced. We caught up with Hanneli to find out more:
Tell us all about Okapi and why you founded it?
Okapi is an African luxury brand from Cape Town which focuses on using locally sourced organic yet sustainable materials such a horn and leather. I founded the brand in 2008 with the aim of creating exciting and exotic, authentically African luxury pieces.
Okapi bags are made from the highest quality natural skins and are meant to age over time to grow with their owners – I have designed them to be customisable so that you can add on and subtract elements not unlike a charm bracelet. My favourite accessories are the Zen Zulu Springbok Horn pendants.
At Okapi, one of our most distinguishing factors is that we place an extremely high emphasis on quality – there is a perception that Africa cannot produce world class luxury produce which is mistaken.
We have pioneered the use of African game skins such as Blesbok leather*, an exotic skin that reflects the brand’s essence of meeting exceptionality and authenticity, with sustainability and little waste. Blespok is an antelope indigenous to South Africa and its unique skin can only be treated and tanned by a select few, highly skilled local artisans in the Western Cape. As a result of the complex manufacturing process undertaken to produce each piece, there can only ever be a limited number of each style made per year, guaranteeing Okapi’s exclusivity.
What does Okapi mean? From where does the brand take its influence?
Okapi is the name of an antelope from the Ituri forest in the Congo. I named my brand after the Okapi because of it’s mysterious nature which in turn caused it to become known as ‘the African unicorn’. Okapi draws its inspiration from exploration, magic and the natural world.
How are you creating a positive impact in South Africa?
We create sustainable impact on the ground in Africa by generating secure jobs in sustainable industries. For centuries in Africa people have been extracting the most valuable natural resources from the earth and leaving very little value add on the ground – through Okapi I would like to demonstrate even in a small way, that it is possible to create something internationally desirable and of exceptional quality from beginning to end on the continent.
This was very challenging in achieving as previously there was no-one tanning top quality leather locally and we have worked very hard to achieve the right look and feel for our brand without having to import anything.
Also, I mentioned in the first question we have a focus on customisation – most of these collaborations are with previously disadvantaged women’s groups such as the ZenZulu who weave our Horns. We work very hard to bring a luxury edge using unique handcraft skills, and in doing so are uplifting the local artisans we work with to a new level.
What is your long-term vision for Okapi?
I can’t give away all of our secrets but I can tell you that we are going to be launching our new capsule collection this summer. The collection focuses on summer colours and sustainable exotics with prices going up from GBP150. We will launch exclusively at the Pop-Up shop we are hosting for our home retailer Merchants on Long (of Cape Town fame) in London in June.
Ostrich skin pouch from Okapi's 2016 Spring/Summer capsule collection
Tell us about the luxury sector in Africa; what are your views on the continent as both a creator and consumer of luxury goods and how do you see this evolving in the future?
Africa is at the forefront of an exciting revolution taking place in luxury all over the world where the most sophisticated consumers are seeking out new experiences and meaningful purchases - whether they be in travel, wining and dining or handbags. We just need to focus on continuing to deliver quality. I am very excited by working with new African luxury brands and helping them expand on the continent and abroad.
African consumers also have exceptional taste and are very patriotic to their own – but don’t think they will be fooled into buying something of inferior quality, in fact we are our harshest critics.
How important do you see the luxury sector’s role in transforming perceptions of the continent outside of Africa?
I see it as imperative. Take for example an industry like tourism and compare the meaningful impact luxury travel has compared to mass tourism on the economy and trickledown. Consumers are not interested in pity purchases nor should they be. In order to make a meaningful impact, we need to continually focus on bringing quality offers to the table.
What are some of your favourite African luxury brands?
Besides Okapi – Lalesso is a fantastic print focused resort line from Kenya, Loza Maléombho is unbelievably creative; look to her for cutting edge women’s wear from Cote d’Ivoire. Also from the Ivory Coast, I love the unisex line Laurence Airline. For the best knitwear out there the Ndeble inspired Maxhosa by Laduma, and finally if you’re a water baby Bantu Wax – the brainchild of Yodit Eklund!
Okapi Founder Hanneli Rupert
Tell us about the pop-up you are hosting in your London store this month?
Following the huge success of the 2012 Merchants in London Pop-Up shop at the Bluebird Store on Kings Road, OKAPI is bringing Merchants back again. From the 8th of June until the end of September we will be showcasing the best of African design in London once again with a one off MERCHANTS X OKAPI pop-up. It will be housed at Okapi’s London shop just off Sloane Square (40 Eaton Terrace, SW1 W8TS).
Find out more and shop the range at www.okapi.com.
*Blespok leather is ethically and sustainably sourced as a by-product in Africa. The Blesbok is one of the most abundant antelopes in South Africa and there are no threats to its long-term survival. Culling is a process of controlling the animal population in order to maintain the balance between animals and the environment they live in. It is a very common form of wildlife management and has been used in Africa since the late 1970’s to control Blespok numbers. Culling is carried out in a humane and controlled way, and the animals are subsequently used for their meat or skin.