I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Eran Eyal, co-founder of springleap.
Springleap is an online t-shirt store cum social network, reminiscent of Threadless, but steeped in South African homegrown goodness. Members submit designs, and the community decides which ones go to print. We’ve been known to enjoy the shirts here at Quirk as well.
Our conversation covered everything from Springleap’s challenges to Eran’s vision for growth in the South African industry. The man is passionate about this stuff, to say the least. I’ve transcribed some snippets and highlights below:
Do you know all the designers, designs and the stories around them?
I do actually know all the stories, as the process requires that I interact with all the artists and handle the production line.
Everything is handled online, so when you enter a springleap design you write a story about it. We’re trying to get away from a situation where you don’t really know the designer of the t-shirt you’re wearing, like with a Levi’s or Guess shirt. When you choose what you wear and what the design is, we’re trying to personalise the process…
It sounds like there’s quite an anti-globalisation philosophy behind springleap.
Yes, totally. This is the idea behind allowing profiles on the website and postcards from the creators with the shirts. The whole idea is that you’re not going to stop globalisation. You need to be aware within the system, and realise what’s going on, and that’s how real change is brought about. It’s about making people conscientious.
Which is where the community built up around springleap comes in?
Actually that’s the really interesting thing. In any Web 2.0 strategy you want the community to build up the content, and you just provide the medium and make it as user friendly as possible. …
On the one side it’s all about the design. …
On the other side, I have a competition called King of Comments and Queen of Quotes. We offer a R500 prize to the person who most consistently and constructively comments on the art and design. ….
What has springleap’s growth been like?
We’re growing every month. In terms of just the votes cast, we grow by about 4,000 votes every time, and people can reap the rewards of this.
We’re trying to take the SA cotton industry to another level. We want to take on design and export, and be proudly South African. And provide recurring revenue for the artists – like royalties. We are looking into eventually breaking into more products. If we can contact K-Mart, for example, and tell them we have original designs for beach towels, then we could really be onto something.
So you could compete on original designs, but could South Africa really compete with a country like China in terms of cost?
I think we could, providing we get together and do our homework. We want to change things by finding partners who share our vision, and to do that we need to create sustainable businesses. We view a partner as anyone who could get involved. …
In an interview with Paul Jacobson, you were talking about setting up community projects for people who don’t have access to computers, how are those going?
There’s been lots of development. I had the dinner with the head of the African Arts Centre. Our plan is that once all the systems are up and running, we could create other niche products.
We’re trying to get a weekend somewhere, where we could have lectures, and find designers who want to work with impoverished artists. We also want to work with people who are already established, and find a way to translate this art into the t-shirt medium.
…. I’ve spoken with the National Society of the Arts (NSA) – and in terms of their top ten artists of the year, we’d like to have the voting process and then go to print. At the end of the year we’d then like to exhibit these works at Buzzart – which is an exhibition of local designs.
Your Durban shop had to be shut down recently, which is a huge pity, but will you be investing in more stores or more retail sellers of your shirts?
Yes, it was a great store but we just had so many break-ins. We’re getting more into outlets. We can take this system to a company as large as Woolworths, and offer them a situation where consumers are telling you what they want. In the retail environment there’s no way to pre-buy and your risk is huge.
There is an enormous movement to get recurring South African designs. We’re currently in Big Blue, eSquared Cape Town and of course the Springleap website, where we ship to anyone anywhere in the world.
I have one final question which we ask everyone we interview..
Yes I am single and very handsome (laughs).
🙂 Well we could put that in too, but I was going to ask what your favourite blogs are to read.
I don’t have much time to read, but am going to have to say eSquared fashion . I also occasionally check in with Charl Norman, Imod, Eric Edelstein – the other half of springleap.com and Vinny Lingham.