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ANIMAL PLANET: The painter-turned-accessories designer Hanneli Rupert has opened a pop-up shop in London for her Made in Africa label Okapi — and the South Africa native has more designs on this city.
The pop-up shop, in a Fitzrovia art gallery, stocks Okapi’s bags and accessories. They are made from ostrich — some of which is hand-polished with agate — crocodile and the brand’s signature Blesbok leather, which comes from an antelope native to South Africa.
Many of the accessories also feature Springbok horns, which are considered good-luck charms in South Africa and are worn by everyone from stylish city types to witch doctors who store their potions inside the horns’ hollows. Other accessories include bracelets and bag charms made from hair from the ridge of a Springbok’s back.
Okapi is a rare label that uses the Blesbok leather, which comes from animals that are abundant in South Africa and farmed for their meat.
“I am a painter by trade and was doing it full-time, but wanted to do something that involved job creation and sustainability,” said Rupert during a walk-through of the temporary shop on Percy Street, which is open until Monday.
“I was inspired by the Saint Laurent Mombasa bag, and wanted to do something with an African ethos, and to create something out of what would normally have been wasted,” she said, referring to the Blesbok hides, which are usually discarded. “This is meant to be an holistic brand for the conscious consumer and you’re meant to keep the bags for life.”
All of the Okapi bags and small accessories are sourced and manufactured entirely in Africa.
Rupert, whose mother Gaynor is an artist and whose father is Johann Rupert, the billionaire founder and shareholder of reference at the luxury goods group Compagnie Financière Richemont, said her bags are timeless rather than seasonal.
Prices for bags range from 495 pounds to 2,500 pounds, or $830 to $4,200 at current exchange, while accessories run from 95 pounds to 600 pounds, or $160 to $1,000. Colors are earthy and organic, and include eggplant, corn, jade and tomato, and the bags are named after African goddesses.
Rupert plans to develop the collection by customizing it, and said she’s collaborating with Kenyan communities to create Masai beading for panels and decorations on bags, and with wire weavers in the Durban area of South Africa to make other embellishments.
Rupert, who is also the founder of Merchants on Long, a concept shop in Cape Town that showcases African-made brands and design, said her goal is to build up Okapi as an enterprise that can offer sustainable employment and one that helps to create partnerships — rather than one-off collaborations — with local communities.
The line is currently sold on okapi.com and at retailers in South Africa, although there are plans to expand. Devin Sinclair, chief operating officer of Okapi, said the aim is to open a permanent shop in London in November, and take Okapi further into the international marketplace.
Asked whether growing up in a family steeped in luxury goods impacted her choice to launch the company, Rupert said: “It’s got to have been an influence, but my mother’s side of the family are all artists. My grandmother, who is 85, teaches in the townships.”
She admits she also has a fascination with skin, and has even channeled that into a recent series of paintings, adding: “That’s one reason I encourage the tanneries we work with to leave the scars and markings on the leather.”