Biz-Life is a series where we highlight local businesses, big or small, giving insight into how they operate and succeed in our economy. By interviewing those behind it all, we gain an understanding of pros, cons and what it takes to have a successful business in SA. The bonus is Shelflife get to highlight businesses that we believe in!


We got the chance to visit Crystal from CRYSTAL BIRCH and ask her some questions about her brand and factory. Check it out below!


 When did Crystal Birch start as a company? What’s the history behind it? 


In 2014 my brand CRYSTAL BIRCH was born, I studied a short course in London and interned with Piers Atkinson for a year. 


 How old is the factory you operate in? 


Parisian Milliners was established in 1936. 83-years old! My business partner, Harry Faktor is 85 and his family started the business back then.


 What sets you guys apart from the crowd? 


We are 1 of 2 remaining Millinery factories, not cloth hat, or cap factories. We have more than 300 blocks and that sets us apart from other smaller companies. Our staff has also been with the factory for very long and their skill is unique and very hard to replace.


 How many different hats does your factory produce?  


We can produce more than 300 different shapes with our blocks and then softies, the options are endless as we develop a new pattern for each one.

 How many hats does CRYSTAL BIRCH produce per week? 

We have the capacity to produce 2000 hats per week out of our factory! 


 Which rules do you think any brand trying to make it in South Africa should follow? 


To be true to themselves, produce the best quality possible and keep improving it as much as you can and grow. Play and don’t be too afraid to push things as you learn quickly if you take risks.


 How big is your team? Do you do everything in-house?  


We are a team of 40-50, depending on production size. We do outsource certain things, depending on how specialized it is. We don’t do embroidery or leather work in-house. 


 How important do you think marketing is for a brand? 


Very important!! It's one of the things I spend most of my time on and PR.

 Which are the most popular items with your customers? Any that are normally sold out? 


Our felt Boleros, felt berets, bucket hats and our straw boleros for summer.

 What are some of Crystal Birch’s highlights as a brand? 


A major highlight for me is that I got to move from a teeny studio into an 83-year-old factory and learn from Harry, my mentor. As a brand, being published in several Vogues, having people come back for more is the best feeling! 


 What are the biggest hurdles/setbacks you have to deal with? 


CASH FLOW, what a crazy thing to manage. I would say its more the frustration of the pace I need to be moving with an established team, than the pace I would like to move. Guess this gives me space to learn, take it in and breath. I'm learning so much, I don't see the disappointments as huge setbacks.


A huge challenge is to convince people to manufacture LOCALLY! 

 Any exciting plans for the future we should look out for?  


We just released the QUACK ATTACK AW19 Collection, it’s a range inspired by Ducks ATTACKING humans. It's hilarious.

I have presented to some exciting international clients, holding thumbs! 


 We know you do really well locally, but how has the rest of the world responded to your hats? 


We just completed a pop up in London with British Vogue and Lagos Fashion Week, we've had raving reviews and we have custom orders from all over the world. It's special to see our hats in other countries having the best time.

 Any advice to those wanting to stand out in your industry? 


It's hard to be original nowadays, but do your research and find an angle that’s more interesting. Be patient too, rather wait and launch with something epic, than with something half-heartedly. Consumers know the difference.

Check out the CRYSTAL BIRCH website to see their full offering and stay up to date with their projects!