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Write By: admin Published In: ROOT Created Date: 2015-07-23 Hits: 1811 Comment: 0

Times Live: "I heard a rumour that during the weekend in which both the annual ANC birthday celebrations and the Queen's Plate horse race was held in Cape Town, the Louis Vuitton shop at the V&A Waterfront enjoyed record sales.

I'm guessing that some of those sales included the elegant crocodile skin handbags which are classic, sought-after Louis Vuitton items.

I looked up the prices for some of the bags. The Louis Vuitton Alma handbag, for example, costs about R200000, and a crocodile skin belt with the brand's initials forming a buckle costs about R61500.

Those crocodile skin handbags are made from skins sourced in Africa and many of them come from a farm owned and operated by Stuart Brand, an ex-hotelier in KwaZulu-Natal. The Brand family owned the Grace Hotel group (Mount Grace in Magaliesburg, The Grace Hotel in Rosebank and The Cape Grace at the V&A Waterfront). A few years ago, they decided to sell the properties over a period of four years.
Said Brand: ''I bought a boat and sailed around the world, visiting more than 30 countries while home schooling my children. When we got back home in 2002 I decided to buy a crocodile farm in Benga, Zimbabwe."

African crocodiles were endangered in the 1970s and hunting them was banned along the confluence of the Zambezi. Conservationists collected eggs and artificially hatched them, pushing up the volumes of crocodiles very quickly.

Now there are so many crocodiles along the banks of the Zambezi that it's a problem.  Brand said: ''You have to take into account the jungle and bush, animals, the economy and people - crocodile farming gets all these factors in sync. There are 30 crocodile farms in Africa that produce thousands of eggs and employment for hundreds of people. Our farm employs more than 300 workers."
Brand said Louis Vuitton buys more than 4000 skins a year. His tannery, built three years ago, produces 36000 skins. But, he said, there are 60 million people in Texas and almost all of them wear boots, and Brand recently set up a warehouse in El Paso, Texas.

''We sell the tanned skins into Texas, Italy, France and Germany," he said.

Brand's farm hatches eggs, rears the crocs and tans the skins. So why not produce his own line of product?  He admitted: "If we can produce beautiful, elegantly crafted items and get them into the local and international market where the high LSM shop, we'll have a winning strategy."

But, said Brand, Africa has always struggled to create luxury brands.  ''We have the skills, the skins, the labour and the conditions, but until now we've been supplying brands rather than creating our own."
Brand learned from design houses that the only way to attain prestige in the luxury market is to use high-end skins.

He said: ''The margins on crocodile skins are enormous. My business model is vertical integration - I own the whole chain of production from the eggs to the final product."

He uses a master craftsman, with a family legacy of 300 years of saddling in Europe. His brand, Zambezi Grace, produces bags, belts, purses, wallets and device covers that are selling well in high-end hotel shops like Mala Mala, Singita, The Royal Livingstone, and Cape Grace.

Said Brand: ''It takes about three years for a croc to grow to a size that we can use, and his belly skin is the most valuable."


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