WORDS: LISA WITEPSKI IMAGES: SUPPLIED

Given Monaise is obsessed with cars. She dreams of one day standing beside the track in Kyalami, and even as a child was captivated by the idea of building an engine. It’s ironic, then, that she’s made a name for herself in the fashion industry, designing luxury leather accessories.

Given herself is blind to the irony; she only sees synchronicity. “My career started in mechanical engineering because that gave me a closeness to cars and, although I’ve left the field, I still apply a lot of what I learned in designing, planning and working with machines. Leather design is all about precision; it’s not like sewing, where you can go back and unpick the fabric to correct a mistake. And my engineering background has helped here, too.”

But how does someone go from descending mine shafts to crafting handbags? By way of a side hustle, says Given. “I was always in love with business because my mother owned her own spaza shop, and I would help her with stocktaking and other processes that taught me the basics of business. At the same time, I helped my dad selling leather belts and shoes.”

Given’s first clientele for the belts and shoes were her friends and colleagues. Later, she added clothing to her range, and it was on a buying trip to Turkey that she fell in love with leather. “I love its durability, the fact that it becomes more beautiful with wear,” she says. She took two weeks’ leave to complete an intensive course at the South African Leather Academy in Cape Town, producing five leather items and honing her knowledge of tanning processes, different types of leather, and stitching techniques. And then, in 2014, she quit her job to start up Kono Authentic, her own range of leather goods.

Although Given developed a loyal clientele at monthly markets, her lack of business acumen proved a major stumbling block and so, one year later, she decided to put the enterprise on hold. She used the time to boost her entrepreneurial grounding, brushing up on skills like marketing and finance through her participation in incubator initiatives like the SAB Foundation Tholoana Programme, and relaunched in 2016.

Given’s progress is marked not only by the several awards accrued during the past three years – she was, for instance, named one of the SAB Foundation’s Top 50 Entrepreneurs – but also by her appearance at leading design shows like Kamers Vol Geskenke and her burgeoning e-commerce site.

Going forward, the entrepreneur says she’s looking to establish more relationships with buyers, by taking part in events like SA Fashion Week’s Trade Show, and is working to grow the brand through channels such as social media.

“Leather is timeless. It’s a joy to work with, because no two pieces of leather are the same, so every item you make is a test of your creativity. And the uniqueness that results is just one of the reasons it’s a joy to wear,” Given concludes.

Kono Authentic | 083 822 7244 | konoauthentic.co.za