Award-winning SA handbag designer Adrian Furstenburg on his triumphant return

South African designer Adrian Furstenburg triumphed at last year’s Independent Handbag Designer Awards™ in the US, walking away with one of the show’s coveted awards.

He was invited back recently to tell audiences how this prestigious international award had literally changed his life – he gave up his job and is now designing handbags fulltime – and, with interest shown from the US – the Adrian Furstenburg brand looks as if it may go global!

You won one of the top awards at the 10th annual Independent Handbag Designer Awards™ in the US. You were one of only two of last year’s winners who were invited back. Tell us about it and the video you showed the audience.
Being invited back to this prestigious event was another massive highlight for my career. Knowing that the curators kept a close eye on my development after winning the award really proved how much it changed my life. I had the opportunity to take the audience through the 365 days from winning the award, leaving my job, starting my own business and launching the first collection with my amazing team. It was an absolute honour and privilege to tell my story to key players in the American industry!

What did it feel like sitting in the audience this time around?
It was a mix of excitement and emotion. Over the last year I got carried away with the every-day tasks of running a business, so I forgot how far I’ve come. Sitting in the audience and re-living the highlights on a massive screen in a theatre with hundreds of people was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. (I felt like Meryl Streep!)

How has your life changed since you won the award?
I left my job and started my own business. I launched my first collection in March. It was incredibly well received and I was one of the best sellers at the SA Fashion Week Luxury pop-up. I am delighted to have created employment in this county. My team and I are creating beautiful bags for our clients but we are also creating an amazing environment for ourselves.

You have have been approached by retailers and agents in the US. Tell us about it?
I have met with agents, marketers and key players in the industry and there is a big interest in taking my proudly South African goods over to the US. It’s an unbelievable experience to see how people loved my collection!

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I travel quite extensively and that is most certainly the biggest source of inspiration for me. Because it should strike a balance between beauty, quality and practicality, I test my products myself and know exactly what and how to create fabulous designs.

What can people who purchase an Adrian Furstenburg bag expect?
From packaging, touching the leather and using the bag – everything is about a great experience. The premium leathers, quality hardware and fabulous signature lining comes standard; personal details such as bespoke design or initial monogramming creates a feeling of luxury without spending a small fortune. Clean lines on the outer design, colours inspired by the city of Johannesburg and the lining are quite the eureka moments, if I say so myself.

How do you combine your designs with your SA heritage?
I am of Austrian descent so there is a strong European influence in the design – quality and craftsmanship is of absolute key. The African materials are what makes it an astonishing product. Riveting colours, amazing textures and premium leathers makes these pieces a beautiful blend of quality and aesthetic.

You took your two full-time employees Hezman Muzopa and Fanwell Masekoto Cape Town, why?
I remember my first time on an aeroplane and the excitement and feeling of adventure is still with me today. Because my first collection was inspired by travel, different journeys and different destinations – I decided to give them something that they would never forget! Both guys have never flown before and I surprised them both with a fabulous trip to Cape Town. We have shared such special moments together and that made an amazing impact on how we manage our business today!

What are handbag trends?
Currently there is a trend that moved from the seventies retro vibe into a classic styling with structured/square shapes, top handle with flap designs and amazing autumn colours. There are also a lot of embellishment or hand painted details on the leather which is just too beautiful for words.

Who are your style icons?
I love Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford and Gucci.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs or those wanting to start their own business?
Follow your heart, but please take your brain with you! Passion alone isn’t sustainable for success.

Where can you get your bags?
Everything is available to pre-order online but we are looking to supplying travel destinations and deluxe hotels around South Africa. Certain boutique stores in Johannesburg and Cape Town will soon be carrying the collections.

How do you see your business growing?
I am growing at a steady pace but I don’t want to grow at a rapid speed because if you are an overnight success, you can be no news in no time (Anna Wintour quote). I am laying the foundations to build a sustainable business in South Africa. We will do all the production locally and supply both the South African markets and international markets from 2018.

What else do you want to design and produce?
My dream is to introduce a proper luggage collection into the portfolio. Beautiful hard cases with wheels and other amenities such as detachable pieces and mobile phone chargers.

Can you compete with brand names such as Louis Vuitton, can a SA bag be as good?
I have no need to compare myself to a brand such as Louis Vuitton because they have more than a 100 years of craft experience, thousands of employees and they are a luxury brand. Even though I provide a luxury experience and have excellent quality goods, I am a premium brand and not luxury. Too many brands claim that they are luxury but this is a very over-used term as it can’t be created overnight. It can’t even be created over a decade. It would be the same as to compare a Rolls Royce with a Mercedes Benz. They will both get you from point A to B and have most of the same bells and whistles, but the one is pure luxury and the other is premium. But I will be next Michael Kors or Kate Spade, I can guarantee you that.

You can connect with Adrian at

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