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As the founder and creative director of Rialheim, Rial Visagie is an entrepreneur and creative with an optimistic outlook on the future of the company and South Africa as a whole. We recently got the got to know Rial about what inspires him, his journey as an entrepreneur and what we can expect from him in years to come.
Previously known as Ceramic Factory, Rial Visagie decided to change the name in honour of his grand father who instructed the wine cellar on Clairvaux, where the studio and artisans are based, to bottle a red wine,
called Rialheim when his first namesake will be born. This was to honour the generations that came before, and after him.
Rialheim is a ceramic design House that created original ceramic designs that are both decorative and functional. The aesthetic resonates with male and female clients, old and young from all our diverse cultures, as it celebrates South African culture and heritage.
What to you is the best thing about selling on KNUS?
Knus provide South Africans a unique opportunity to support local artisan across South Africa as a one stop shop. Customers are able to buy from one platform and support multiple artisans. While providing artisans a vital platform to showcase their products to potential clients. Access to market remains one of the biggest challenges for Artisans and Knus provide a business solution to this challenge.
Why would you say it is important for customers to support local?
The informal sector in South Africa is the biggest employer in South Africa and with our unemployment sitting north of 30% we should rather create jobs and skills locally. This really is a no brainer but it takes dedication and a mind shift to really change your behaviour.
As Creative Director, and entrepreneur, you have to wear many hats. What roles get you excited the most in business?
There is nothing quite like seeing a product after a year of development finally being market ready. There is no feeling that can beat that.
I think, being creative excites me on so many levels, and there is a place before people see it where you fall in love with the product. Because what you have in mind, and the end products, differ wildly. But if you look at the Ubuntu Mug, it was such an easy thing to develop. It still took 6 months, but it was an easy product, because we knew from the beginning what we wanted the story to be.
So I think being a creative and and an entrepreneur are sort of interchangeable. If you work on the product, it's like a puzzle. If you work on your business and putting your business together, it’s a puzzle again. So I do feel that you use that same creativity. The only thing that you have to include is figures.
So, if you think about it, you have a product like the Ubuntu Mug which is kind of a mass market product, and you say you want one in every home, but then you also have products that are a lot more limited in numbers, a lot more niche. So, do you think you can be a collectible brand, and an everyday brand at the same time? Can these things co-exist?
So, I think for me personally, I find it insulting when people say they are going to put it away, it’s an heirloom. They don’t want to use it every day. I make these products to be used because that is what functional art is all about. When we design a collection, we definitely go for a piece, like the Evolution Man that has been photographed more than anything else, but doesn’t sell the quantities that the Ubuntu Mug does. I am excited, and that excited me about the future because how many products can we still turn out that don’t sell? Where we do sell limited? Probably below 50 units, but then we have lines where we sell thousands, and I think its really again for the consumer to decide if they want to collect it or not, but my wish is that the people have to use these products, especially the mugs, every day.
Your slogan says “handcrafted in South Africa”, so when you say handcrafted, I mean, how many hands does each product go through in the manufacturing process?
So it will definitely have touched at least 15 peoples hands.
Every product is a little bit different because everyone in the studio is a little bit different. I always say that we can’t afford a bad day where our artisans are in a bad mood. You see it in the product. There is no place where people love more than being in the studio, and I think, that is even a healing process for me sometimes being an entrepreneur, the studio becomes an escape mechanism from the reality of being an entrepreneur.
So, since last year, the consumer dynamic has shifted towards locally made products more. You have always been a firm believer in boosting the local economy first. Have you seen an uptake in customers looking to support local over the last year, and do you think the trend will last?
Obviously, I think the fact that we are still here means our local clients are amazing. If you think that 26 % of small business’ closed last year and 71% of work, employment in South Africa, is created by small businesses.
I would love to believe that people will finally start to value local, and that’s important for me. The most important thing for me is that our artisans in Rialheim deserve to have a living wage. They don’t deserve a minimum wage. They deserve a living wage, like you and me do, like our friends do, I find it, when people complain about pricing about local products, an insult, because why is their living wage more important than artisans living wage? And I know that this is a difficult conversation to have, but we need to respect each other’s talent and living wage, because one of the most magical moments within Rialheim has been where one of our artisans could finally go out and buy a car. We need to start building wealth for own people, for our own buying power.
Imagine the power we have when we go local, and I know it's not always easy to find the local product that you can afford, but instead of buying five jeans, maybe buy one that's locally made, because that money remains in our economy.
So Rialheim is turning 9 this year which is a major milestone for any business in South Africa. What would you say the most rewarding and the most challenging milestones have been on this journey, and what can we expect from the brand over the next few years?
I think the most challenging thing is for many artists or creative people is to trust your gut feeling and to listen to your inner voice.
So I would say trusting your creativity is a big challenge. If I look at how many times we redesign a product sometimes, and it takes Daniel to come in and say “it's done”, and how many products have been launched against my will and have done very well. So I think, and you have asked earlier about advice for other artisans is that you should surround yourself with the best positive people you can, family or friends, because at the end of the day it is family and friends that support your business. It's a collective effort, and I think the magic we have, family and friends support entrepreneurs, and they support their friends, and that has definitely happened in our situation, and also friends that you develop along the way.
And that also makes it less lonely, so I think the biggest challenge is to always make sure that you surround yourself with people that are positive in this journey, because you are going on the road less travelled.
Photography by Darryl Gouws for Rialheim. Blog Excerpt by Darryl Gouws.
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