We are excited to announce the launch of our Insider Shopping Safari, which brings together some of the most incredible insider shopping experiences in the Western Cape, led by a personal shopper. One of the most exciting additions to this exclusive experience is the curated retail store, Merchants on Long. We sat down with shop proprietor, Hanneli Rupert, to get the inside track on her growing fashion empire.
Merchants on Long
Featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Tatler and the Wallpaper, Louis Vuitton and Luxe city guides Merchants on Long was the first concept store in Africa to focus on contemporary Pan-African design. Opened in 2010, Merchants serves as a platform for emerging and established designers to display their products to both foreign and African consumers. The carefully curated selection of bespoke, luxury and handmade brands are all 100% sourced and made in Africa and include everything from fashion to homeware. Merchants on Long is also the home of the African luxury handbag and accessories line OKAPI.
ES: How did you come up with the idea for Merchants on Long and when did it launch?
HR: I launched MoL in 2010. I had been working on my brand Okapi for over a year already and in the process been researching all of the other existing African luxury brands. I realized that most of them did not seem to have retail outlets that were suitable (they either stripped the products of their identity to sell as “own label” or were simply not in keeping with the quality). I decided to create a space where these African brands could thrive independently together.
ES: How do you select the designers that are featured in the store?
HR: The key line in the sand is that all of the brands that we stock at Merchants on Long are made in Africa. Naturally as a result many of them have sustainable and ethical roots which is also wonderful. I am also very focussed on quality control and look for pieces that are beautifully made and will last.
ES: You sell your own products in the store as well, right? Can you tell us more about the OKAPI handbag range and what makes it unique?
HR: All of Okapi’s pieces are made entirely in South Africa from locally sourced materials. I work with only the best sustainable exotic skins and top quality manufacturing. Another of our key differences lies in the design which is aimed at being uniquely African (many other local leather goods brands look strongly towards Europe for inspiration) but at the same time internationally appealing and timeless.
ES: Everything in the store seems highly curated, from the items to the layout. What is your philosophy behind the shopping experience?
HR: Merchants on Long aims to be a true “dedication” shop. I feel that there are few of these left. Most concept stores franchise out and in my option dilute their desirability through being easily available anywhere. Merchants on Long lives on Long Street in Cape Town and that experience cannot be replicated. I also believe that most people now shop either purely for practicality or because they really want something more. Perhaps to learn from the products they are buying or to create positive change by purchasing a certain item. We hope that people get more than just products when they leave MoL.
ES: Seeing as you split half of your time between Cape Town and London, how do you feel like African brands and fashion are perceived abroad? Is Merchants on Long doing something unique in this space?
HR: I think more and more people are tending to buy products with authenticity and heritage. I believe Merchants is unique because we specialize in African made luxury which no one else is doing quite like us. There are other brands doing somewhat similar things with South American and Indian brands too.
ES: How would you describe African luxury?
HR: Some of the core links I have found amongst the African Luxury brands I stock are that there is great importance placed in the experience of the product (thinking ahead to where you will wear it, smell it, see it), that the manufacturing process means more than just making something – it is often for social or environmental upliftment and a lot of love goes in. In Africa people are blessed with the great beauty of nature and the knowledge of the transient nature of life so it hasn’t taken us a long time to cut to the core of “real luxury” which burns down to the experiences in life you gather not the things.
ES: How does your personal style influence the image of both the Okapi and Merchants on Long brands?
HR: With regards to Okapi which is probably a more direct reflection of my personal style I have a fascination with organic materials. I think nature always outdoes man and I would like to pay as much respect to these materials as possible and use them responsibly. I love the anomalies in bone, leather, horn and wood and if rendered carefully one can make a beautiful unique and luxurious product without it looking crafty. There is an Art-Deco undertone to a lot of the designs which I believe links in to the simple symmetry of natures design codes.