Maria McCloy on her exclusive shoe range for Woolworths

We chatted to fashion designer and entrepreneur Maria McCloy on her new deal with retail giant Woolworths

Being selected as one of eight local designers to have her range sold at Woolworths stores countrywide far exceeded McCloy’s expectations.

Less than 24 hours after debuting her women’s and men’s shoe and sneaker designs at the opening of SA Fashion Week on Tuesday night, McCloy says the reality of the deal has yet to hit home.

“It’s still sinking in; I feel a little bamboozled by it all,” she tells DESTINY.

“The love, the response and finally being on the ramp with such amazing designers, being in Woolworths and being available countrywide with an amazing brand is a real dream come true for me, especially because they approached me in December last year – I didn’t pitch to them. I didn’t even think I was ready for Fashion Week at that point.”

She was chosen along with Rich Mnisi, Thebe Magugu, AKJP, Pichulik, Sol-Sol, Selfi and Young & Lazy by Woolworths to be part of its 2017 StyleBySA campaign to bring some of the most innovative and cutting-edge designs on the runway to retail stores for mass market purchase.

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It’s not the first time that Woolworths has collaborated with local designers – the retailer has previously worked with Stoned Cherrie, Craig Native and Maya Prass – but it’s been well over a decade, and Charmaine Huet, group director of marketing and sustainability at Woolworths, said the time was right to showcase a fresh group of local designers.

“As a passionately South African retailer, we want to boost the visibility and viability of local designers. The quality of the work on show last night and the response to it is compelling proof of the incredible local talent the South African fashion industry has on offer,” Huet says.

McCloy started off in 2007 as an accessories designer and selling vintage clothes before branching out into handbags and men and women’s shoes. She says the retail partnership with Woolworths has “fast-forwarded my fashion dream and taken me to the next level”.

The deal is not structured on a consignment basis – which is when a third party agrees to sell products on a business owner’s behalf for a cut of the sales and where the business owner is paid only after the items have been sold. McCloy says the designers were paid 50% of the value of the stock purchased in advance, eliminating any potential cash flow problems that could pop up.

“I was able to find a new factory in Durban and they were able to start producing women’s shoes for me; before I had only been making men’s shoes,” she says. “This collection consists of three types of men’s shoes and three types of women’s shoes, so my first proper shoes for women are debuting in this range.”

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“All of us as designers want financing and distribution, and a lot of  designers in SA struggle because smaller boutiques want consignment agreements, and that messes up our cash flow. It messes up your ability to produce more; it messes with your distribution. So this is a dream come true for me.”

All eight designers’ collections can be bought online this week before the official in-store launch on 12 April at Woolworths stores at Canal Walk Shopping Centre in Cape Town, Sandton City and Mall of Africa stores in Johannesburg, Menlyn Mall in Pretoria as well as the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Durban.

While McCloy wouldn’t be drawn on the profit split, she admits that she’s “very happy with the split”, adding that she got exactly what she wanted.

She says the beauty of partnering with Woolworths is that while the products that are manufactured for them will be exclusive designs, the retailer hasn’t restricted designers from trading elsewhere.

McCloy has already received interest from as far afield as the US and her long-term plans for the business is to “bump up” her stock and launch an online store.

*Shop the Woolworths #StyleBySA collection online at www.woolworths.co.za