THE MAKERS FACE2FACE EPISODE 8 – BACH AND BELL MORGAN

Staying in touch from our couch to yours #thepowerofsmall

Being one of the most positive and out-of-the-box thinking people that we know, we had a chat with Babette from Bach and Bell Morgan. We chatted about everything, from being pregnant during these uncertain times, to using this time of Lockdown to figure out what it REALLY is that you want to be doing and dreaming big…

TLM: Tell us more about who you are and about your brand.

Babette: I am a shoemaker. I’ve been making shoes for 11 years now. We are based in Pretoria. We currently have 2 brands. Our ladies Bach brand and the Bell Morgan brand which is our men’s brand, both of which we sell at The Linden Market. We typically use leather on both brands, but we do make shoes out of other materials as well. We have a small factory just outside of Pretoria that employs 6 people, mostly single parents.

TLM: Except for not being able to sell at markets, how has the Lockdown impacted your business?

Babette: We’ve obviously had to stop production for the last…. I’ve actually stopped counting. So the factory has been closed. April would have been our most successful month in terms of the markets that we do and the shows that we do. So all of those have been cancelled, which has put quite a lot of stress on us. Luckily we did manage to get through April without losing any of our staff which is the biggest blessing for me. And under the new Phase 4 we are allowed to return to work at 25% as an essential service making footwear. We haven’t been back at the factory yet, but from next week we will have one member of staff in per day and they will alternate between the staff that are local. We do have staff that went home to other provinces that won’t be able to come back, but we are hoping just with that bare minimum production, that we will be able to ride this tide for at least a couple of months.

Luckily we also have a lot of stock for the shows that we were planning for April. So we’ve got loads of stock! We can sell and deliver! Our first package went out today. So grateful for that. It’s such a blessing that we know that we can deliver safely, hygienically, without our staff having to come in and then potentially carry our business through this really tough time, without compromising anyone’s health or safety.

TLM: Was there any changes that you made to your business during this time?

Babette: We obviously saw the writing on the wall quite early and we put in a few health measures in terms of the factory, the way we pack stuff and the way we were distributing stuff, even before Lockdown. So I’m quite assured that our factory is hygienic enough to return under the Lockdown rules.

In terms of what we we’ve been looking at during Lockdown… I mean our whole business has changed. We are going to have to think differently about how we do business in the future. But we see it as an exciting challenge and we are prepared for it.

TLM: Have you had any epiphanies yet about the way forward or don’t you want to share your secrets? 😊

Babette: Definitely epiphanies have happened which I’m so grateful for. I sat back during this Lockdown, thinking what is it actually that I am doing… am I following my childhood dream? Which I realized I might not quite be doing. Although I’m making shoes, I’m not making the type of shoes that I want. So it’s to dig deeper into my creative self and to produce something that is more authentically me, because everything has gone up in smoke so we might as well start over.

TLM: Just out of interest… you started making boots, then flipflops and now you’re into leather shoes. What is it that you dream of making?

Babette: It’s always been high fashion, beautiful couture type of shoes. I think there was always this thing in me, somehow it’s not African enough, or it wasn’t for this continent. And realizing that as the world gets smaller, we’ve had so many factories and designers from Italy and Spain reach out to us in their desperation, expanding their businesses in any way that they can. And going wow, if that’s what they’re doing, we should be digging deeper as well.

TLM: What is the one thing that you miss form before Lockdown?

Babette: Hugs!!!I really miss giving people hugs. Phil my husband is often at the markets with me, Bell Morgan is his brand, he’s also a pilot and he’s been based in West Africa throughout the Lockdown and he will be there for a couple more months. So I haven’t actually had physical human contact which has been quite crazy – my poor dog is getting way too many hugs…

So I miss hugs, I miss my clients, I miss just chatting to people. But at the same time I’m being positive… I’m not good with technology (you saw how long it took to get this call going 😊) and it will probably cut out before we finish, but realizing everyday we do use technology, we can connect with people, whether it’s my mom who’s out in the bush, whether it’s Phil who’s in West Africa. My approach to deal with that part that I’m missing and my clients that I’m missing, is to connect with them the same way I connect with my family. So I’ve made my Whatsapp call and my Whatsapp Video call way more open to my clients to say there’s actually a person here… If you want to see the shoe I’ll show you, I’ll turn it over, this is what it looks like… I mean I’m doing nothing else and that’s been really fun. I’ve enjoyed just having chats with clients. It’s not really about the sales, but also just about sharing my products with anyone who is interested in our brands.

TLM: So you’re pregnant and due sometime soon. Knowing so many pregnant women and women who just had babies are going through quite a tough time being in Lockdown. You’re view about this is so inspiring – will you share your thoughts on being pregnant during this time.

Babette: Phil and I are both people who face challenges head on and find solutions. And I actually asked him – had we known that there would be a pandemic, would we still have gone through this journey of pregnancy or would we have delayed it. He looked at me and said, of course we would have done this, this was our plan. You can do it safely. It’s going to be fine.

Everything has changed. The world is not going to be the same place – tough times lie ahead, but hopefully it’s for the better. To realize that bringing this little person into the world, there is positivity and there is something to look forward to and something to work for. We wouldn’t have changed our plans and are super excited to meet her.

I think it is terrifying for anyone who’s pregnant right now, but it’s to be practical and logical, not to unnecessarily put yourself in danger and then to realize that you will be fine and life can go on. Human beings are resilient and we are capable of absolute survival. It could always be much worse. But life is beautiful, life is always worth celebrating. We are lucky to live in the times that we are. Even 10 years ago we didn’t have the technology that we have now, that is making this (staying in touch) so much easier.

TLM: I feel like I’m jumping around… but what is the one thing that you do NOT miss from life before Lockdown?

Babette: Tarffic. I think the few times that I’ve been out to the doctor and to the shops for essentials, the quietness of the roads is so amazing and so peaceful. It’s actually something that I might miss after Lockdown.

I have a standing appointment with a client that I see every couple of weeks in Johannesburg. And we’ve obviously taken the meeting online now. And I‘ve decided after this I’m not driving to Joburg anymore. Why spend R300 on petrol and two and a half hours in traffic? It doesn’t make sense. So that’s been quite cool. I’ve enjoyed realizing the unlimited boundaries of social connection through the internet and social media.

TLM: As an entrepreneur and a small business owner, you have your own factory and you employ six people. How would you like the South African public to better support small local businesses?

Babette: I think it’s one thing to say buy local… I think it’s also another thing as the public, to let your local suppliers know what you want… A really big push that we are looking it, is trying to get our shoes into more of our big retailers – instead of them having to buy from overseas. If the public can recommend local brands that they support to retailers like Woolworths or Spar or one of those, because it’s quite hard for small businesses to find ways into those shops. I think that’s a different way for people to support local.

I know often it’s just easier to go grab a pair of shoes from Woollies, for instance if you need a black pair of pumps, than going online, finding a pair or waiting for a market. So I think if big retailers have this push from consumers to stock more local products that would be amazing.

Obviously to support local is always the better option, but it’s not always easy, for instance having to go search for it online… During Lockdown I had to go search for stuff online for the baby and I’ve been quite frustrated with online stores and how they work. So I can’t even imagine how other people are going about it, constantly having to buy local products online. It is a frustration, it is something that as entrepreneurs we need to address and make it easier for our consumers.

But that’s something that consumers can let us know – how it would be easier for them to get our products. And if it is easier to buy those products in stores, to tell those stores that this is what they want to see in those stores… That’s a slightly different angle on “buying local”.

TLM: Talking about buying local – where can we get your shoes?

Babette: You can always check us out online. We are on Facebook and on Instagram – both of these have links to online stores that are now delivering. Otherwise you can give us a call, or Whatsapp us if you want to chat about the products. Just reach out. It sounds difficult, but at the end of the day we are small businesses that are sitting at home, just waiting to chat about our products.

TLM: Please share a piece of hope or advice to other small business owners.

Babette: Now is not a time to be afraid – if you can weather the storm, if you can dig deep… don’t just try to survive, try to thrive. Come up with a plan that fills you as a human being, not just fills a need. That might sound a little bit of a cliché in a time of essentials, but that’s been my deep, deep thinking of this… it’s going to end and then I want to be in a position where my soul is ready to move and rock and get going again. Think about the future and start planning for the kind of future that you want for your business, and for yourself and your family. To really know what that is and to put that into practice now, during this most difficult time. If you believe it, it will happen. I truly believe it. It takes a lot of faith, but nothing is impossible.