JOHANNESBURG — Belinda Seper, the woman behind the Belinda boutique, is the Australian equivalent of Joyce Ma, Ikram Goldman and Joan Burstein.
She does not advertise, yet in the last 15 years, Seper has built a fashion business that trades on the careful selection of merchandise from the hottest labels, the creation of a unique retail environment in a specifically defined location and her instinctive understanding of her market.
Today, Belinda has 10 stores in Australia with sales last year of $10 million and 70 employees. And in May, the Belinda multibrand boutique concept made its debut here, its first foreign outpost.
Like her boutiques in Australia, Belinda in South Africa is housed in a converted home on the main avenue of a leafy suburb, Parkhurst, fast becoming Johannesburg';s answer to Manhattan';s Chelsea. Inside, the 2,000-square-foot space has four separate retail areas: the Corner Shop for jeans and T-shirts by Sass & Bide, Lover and Citizens of Humanity; a shoes and bags boutique; a high-fashion salon featuring labels such as Lanvin and Missoni; and an "international chic" shop that carries Miu Miu, Marni, Stella McCartney, Chloé and Vanessa Bruno.
Seper decided quickly and instinctively that a Belinda boutique in South Africa would work. "I';d been to visit my brother and his partner, who';d been living here for a few years now," she recounted. "This was back in July 2006. I instantly fell in love with the country." The economy was booming and consumer luxury spending was at an all-time high. But it surprised her that some of her favorite labels weren';t available.
Seper investigated Johannesburg and Cape Town. "I felt that the market was ready for it. It was time to go in and do something different."
She returned last September to scout locations for a Johannesburg store; by November, the deal on the Parkhurst house was final. Construction began in earnest in January. Realizing that she was going against conventional wisdom in setting her store in a house, she said, "I know that in Johannesburg, a mall mentality exists. I also know it results from security issues; malls were considered safe places in the context of so much crime. However, my sense is that people here are a lot more relaxed now, and ready for the regeneration of a more independent-minded retail environment."
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