Fashion entrepreneur Mariam Desai is determined to make a success of her business Cherrie Couture’s 2020 Ramadan range, despite the national lockdown.
It’s almost one week into the month of Ramadan and production at Cherrie Couture in Cape Town has come to a complete halt. Ramadan is usually the busiest time for Cherrie Couture, which specialises in modest wear.
Fashion entrepreneur Mariam Desai, 54, runs the business with her 26-year old daughter, Faranaaz. She started the business five years ago after being a stay at home mom for 29 years. Mariam had no business experience or knowledge of the fashion industry. All she had was R3 000 and a passion for fashion. Today, it is a flourishing business with customers from across the country, including singer and actress Jawaahier Petersen.
In stark contrast to previous years, Cherrie Couture only managed to produce a third of its Ramadan range due to the national lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March.
“We usually start working early on our Ramadan range because Eid is big. We already sourced our fabric last year, but when the lockdown was announced, our factory stopped sewing garments completely. We have 23 styles in this year’s Ramadan range and each style has 40 dresses however, we only managed to complete six styles ahead of the lockdown,” says Mariam.
Each year, Mariam showcases her new range at an exclusive Cherrie Couture Eid launch event ahead of the month of Ramadan. Unfortunately, she had to cancel this year’s event, which was planned for 18 April, and refund ticket purchases. “Nobody knew that something like this could happen. It is an unusual circumstance; you can’t label it because it changes all the time,” she says.
On 23 April, the President announced that South Africa would move from a Level 5 to a Level 4 lockdown, with only some restrictions being lifted. “I don’t know if I am going to start production immediately after some of the restrictions are lifted. Even if we are permitted to restore operations, it does not mean that we will be able to sell our Ramadan rage. If social gatherings are not allowed, why would you buy outfits for Ramadan?” says Mariam.
While Cherrie Couture’s fashion can be ordered online, Mariam believes the success of her business has been the personal interaction with customers. “Many people run their businesses online; my business is all about building relationships. We have a diverse customer base, which includes all shapes and sizes. We style and dress our customers uniquely, matching their body types. We know each of our customers by name, even those who order from other parts of the country. They come back to us each year because of the special service they receive,” she says.
So where to from here for Cherrie Couture? “Our strategy is that if things don’t work out and we’re unable to complete our Ramadan range ahead of the first Eid (Eid-ul-Fitr), we will focus on having the range ready for the second Eid (Eid-ul-Adhaa),” concludes Mariam.