Creative Interview: Janita Toerien

Creative Interview

A quick interview with Janita Toerien, epic Cape Town designer and dressmaker, on her business, her accomplishments and struggles, dreams and future plans.

Janita Toerien Cape Town Dressmaker

What is your main inspiration behind your brand’s visual aesthetic?

This is a more difficult question to answer than it seems, haha! We get inspiration from so many things…people, places, fabrics, abstract concepts, so it’s difficult to pinpoint what the main inspiration is. I mean, I would change my whole office’s look from one colour-palette to another if I feel like it doesn’t serve me well anymore, but I think the consistent thing is always that it makes an uncomplicated statement. The beauty in a simple black and white logo or website but with colourful details, a plain fabric used on a plain design but with a breathtaking silhouette or detail…the result should be bold without shouting, understated yet confident. And I think it visually looks different as time goes by so you’ll never see us just keeping to one style, design, logo for years and years!


How long has your brand been established?

For 10 years. We’ll be celebrating our 10th birthday on the 1st of October 2019.


How did you get into what you are doing now?

Since I was a kid I would draw dresses. Any and every chance that I got, I would draw dresses. I use to dress my paper dolls up before going to school in the morning, change them into leisure wear after school and change them to their pj’s before going to bed. At the age of thirteen, I had this big plan that I would become a model, make friends with Calvin Klein and then start designing for him. In matric, I got accepted to study at Stellenbosch University, get a BComm (because that’s what you do when you don’t know what you want to do) and I told my folks that I really wanted to study fashion design. They said I could follow that dream so off I went. After college, I worked in men’s retail for a year overseas and when I came back I knew I wanted to only make beautiful dresses. It started with the odd dance dress here and there before I decided to only focus on wedding dresses, and the business grew from there. I was also incredibly fortunate to be able to do it all while still living with my parents for the first 5 years of growing the brand, which was vital in that I didn’t have the overheads most startups have. And we were in Bellville, which made it easy to find clients and suppliers.


What is your main goal behind your brand/business?

Really just making beautiful dresses. I’ve always believed your wedding dress should be whatever you feel beautiful in, and sometimes that doesn’t fit the mould of the white, lace dress. So I started making what I felt was beautiful, and I got discouraged a lot. Like really, really a lot. Even from one of my mentors who said that people will never buy a gold and purple dress (that dress became our most sought after dress, by the way!) but then someone said to me “If you like something, you can’t be the only one, other people will like it too.”, so I kept on making dresses that I loved. The main goal is still to make the most beautiful dress possible for the client standing in front of us. To make her personality come to life in the dress that she’ll wear on her wedding day.


What has been/is your biggest struggle so far?

Working in weddings there is always a really quiet time during the winter months of June and July, and mentally it is a struggle to accept that no one is getting engaged (therefore no enquiries in your inbox) and no one is getting married (so nothing to work on). I’ve been through the quiet winter months for 9 seasons now and every year it is hard to basically sit and do nothing. We have now started making the most of it and will be working on our Ready-to-Wear range during that time so we have something to look forward to between the peak times of wedding season!


What has been/is your biggest accomplishment so far?

In terms of recognition, it is definitely having one of our dresses nominated for Elle International Bridal Awards’ Best Wedding Dress of the Year, alongside Oscar de la Renta, Reem Acra, Monique Lhuillier and Vera Wang. Also being able to see our dresses being worn by local celebrities like Minki, Rolanda Marais, Roelene Strauss and Amalia Uys is surreal; it’s that thing where when you start out as a designer and you long for a day when someone well-known will wear something you created. However, every now and then you get a request from a bride that forces you to go outside your comfort zone; that requires you to read up on new techniques or play around with new construction ideas. And when you see the end result you know that you and your team have gone above and beyond what you are used to making, there is something in that which has an incredible feeling of accomplishment and pride.


Janita Toerien Cape Town Dressmaker


Where do you hope to see yourself/your business in 5 years?  

We are going back to our roots a bit at the moment by moving our business to a home. We want to create the intimate setting we had a few years ago and bring that really personal feel back to our fittings. While doing that, we’ll also be working on the ready-to-wear pieces; I want to grow that part of the business to become a leading online shop and self-sustainable business within the next two years.


If you could be doing anything else other than this, what would you be doing?

Hahaha!! No jokes, a meteorologist.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received (doesn’t have to be business related)?

There will always be an excuse to not do the thing you’re scared of doing, stop making excuses. Another thing I once saw read: “The devil whispers ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior replied ‘I am the storm.'”


Who in the industry/world do you most look up to? Why?

It might not be the answer that you are looking for, but I think the people I look up to most are my parents and a tiny handful of close friends that have not only been there for me during some tough times but have the most incredible character when it comes to their outlook on life.


What would you want people to know about being a small business owner/lady boss?

People say that it takes 3 years for a business to start running at a profit and I found that to be true in most cases. Chase your dreams but be realistic that it might only show a profit after a while, so you cannot give up after only a year. Do what you know is right for your business as you are the only one that truly knows it. I’ve had a lot of (unwanted) advice from big business owners but what worked for them or their outlook on business did really not apply to mine. So listen, but think and analyse it first before just doing something because it worked for someone else.


Favourite music to listen to while working?

EDM and trance (but only when I can listen to it while wearing headphones, I completely get into the zone with work and then no one can talk to me). So while I am at work with employees, we only have Heart FM playing in the background, hahaha!


What are your top 3 favourite movies?

– The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

– Mad Max Fury Road

– Scott Pilgrim vs The World


Janita Toerien Dresses

Images of Janita: Genevieve Fundaro  //   Dress Images: Provided

To get in touch with Janita, or to see more of her incredible dresses, visit her website.