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Lerato Bokako

February 20, 2023

How a vintage furniture store is using the power of community to build a sustainable business

I met with Garance – co-founder of vintage furniture store Maison – in the most 2020 way: via zoom. She and her adorable cat Jamie sat down to talk to me about how Maison Cape Town got started and how they’re helping others live a more sustainable lifestyle. A few minutes speaking with Garance and you quickly realise that she greatly values the power of community.

“Community is what helped get the business started and it is community that has helped to spread the word. We were not expecting so much success. It started by being shown by friends and family. Our community really helped to push the word out and we were able to have, I think, about 400 followers in the first two days. Our business came about through big, beautiful solidarity combined with the fact that we brought the product that people needed at the time.”

Garance opened up the vintage furniture store Maison with her partner, Willus in early 2020 and now the two are getting ready to launch their website. With their website they plan on growing their business while also creating a platform that can be used by customers to resell furniture. “We’re busy building a website where there will be two sections: one will be our furniture and the other will be your furniture,” says Garance. “In the ‘your furniture’ section people can add details like their furniture’s dimension, size, material and condition.”

Garance and Willus mostly work between Stellenbosch and Cape Town to run their business. They are excited about Maison’s growth but are also aware of the pros on and cons that a growing business comes with: “Ideally we would love to keep the business as local as possible, but we have started gaining followers in Joburg and Pretoria. So now we have started shipping products. We feel very passionate about living a low-waste lifestyle so the idea of constantly shipping products has bothered us a little bit. We also know it's something you can't stop when you are a growing business. It’s important for people to have access to local and vintage furniture.”

The Maison origin story is inspiring because it’s an instance where the ups and downs of 2020 somewhat worked in their favour. Like a lot of people this year, Garance and Willus found themselves struggling with work.

I was working as a marketing coordinator for a travel company but when COVID arrived, my agency was all shaken up and a lot of us got retrenched – me included – within the first few days of lockdown.

Garance decided to use her skills as a marketer to benefit their growing business.

LERATO: What drew you to want to live and work in Cape Town?

GARANCE: I am from the north of France, close to Belgium. The first time I came to Cape Town was when a friend of mine was doing an internship here and I came to visit her. Spending time here I fell in love with the place. I love the lifestyle. As much as I love France, there’s something about the nature here. There's a clear distinction between professional and personal life. I think there is a better balance here.

LERATO: How did you start building Maison?

GARANCE: When I was retrenched, I moved to Stellenbosch to stay with my boyfriend Willus – the co-founder of Maison – during the lockdown period. Willus owns a restaurant called The Meeting Place in Stellenbosch but he also had a hobby of buying secondhand furniture on his trips back-and-forth between Cape Town and Stellenbosch and then selling it. At first, I thought it was a bit funky because I was like, “what are you going to do with so many chairs?” He was like, “they’re beautiful pieces of furniture I'm giving a second life to.” So that's when the whole thing started! He has absolutely no knowledge of social media or marketing, but he has a pretty incredible eye which means that he is the one sourcing. I told him at the time, “I have plenty of time now, why don’t I create an Instagram page for you? And I’ll work on branding and creating the designs for the business.”

LERATO: What does the name Maison mean?

GARANCE: It means “home” in French.

LERATO: Maison started just before lockdown, yes?

GARANCE: We started in the first week of March and lockdown happened in the last week of March.

LERATO: That means that you’ve been operating almost exclusively during this pandemic.

GARANCE: Exactly!

LERATO: It’s quite remarkable that you’ve been able to have a young business thrive the way it has during the times we are in.  

GARANCE: I think that with everyone spending so much more time at home, they’ve realised it’s important to invest in your house. We’re also a generation that is looking for meaning in the way that we consume. I think we all realise that constantly buying new is not really the future.

LERATO: You and Willus live between Cape Town and Stellenbosch, meaning that you also are running your business between these two cities. How do you coordinate all of that? What’s a typical day in your life like?

GARANCE: Through the lockdown, I was posting pictures of our furniture on Instagram and I was telling people they can collect after the lockdown was lifted. It's really after lockdown that we started making drop-offs and collections. We keep our stock between the two places. Most of our clients are in Cape Town. Willus will bring some of the furniture to me in Cape Town, I shoot it – my room basically looks like a furniture store at the moment – and we’ll put it up on social media. We don’t do deliveries, but we do collections from customers.  

LERATO: How did your marketing background help you when starting this business?

GARANCE: The most important thing about marketing is that your brand has to have a strong identity. Willus’s sister designed our logo for us and I decided to use the three colours in the logo to be the main colours that are prominent on our Instagram feed. Consistency is really important when marketing on social media. It’s important that people can immediately recognise our style – how we take pictures, the kind of words and phrases we use, that sort of thing. With the big amount of information that people see every day, this is a way that we can stand out.

LERATO: What does sustainability mean to you?

GARANCE: Sustainability is really about acknowledging that this planet is the most precious gift we have and if we carry on the way we are things won’t last forever. It’s about looking for ways to do things differently in a way that we are considering how the planet will look for the future.

LERATO: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a brand in the sustainability space?

GARANCE: Honestly, transporting. When it comes to packages being moved cross country, we are very aware of the environmental impact of this. But if nobody in Cape Town is buying an item, we do sell it to somebody in another part of the country. We’re still trying to figure out how to keep the impact low while still being able to grow as a company.

One way we have tried to combat this is by starting a Maison marketplace. This means that we have started to also sell furniture on behalf of other people. For this, we work on a commission basis.

LERATO: What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?

GARANCE: Trust the universe and just do it! Don’t get discouraged by people who might doubt your vision. Instead, believe in the value of your business idea – don’t overthink it because fear is often the main problem.

Speaking with someone so passionate about building a sustainable future, one can’t help but feel inspired to also do their bit to help the planet. The path to a sustainable future can sometimes feel lonely and maybe even fruitless at times.  But when you start to feel overwhelmed, turn to the community around you and find ways that you can all make incremental changes as a unit. That’s been Maison’s mission from the start, and they continue to do that through their business today.

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