Indigenus: From Mistakes to Making it Big

From Mistakes to Making it Big: The Story Behind Indigenus
Aarde by German designer Sebastian Herkner speaks to the layers of culture, nature and light in Africa

WORDS Richard Holmes PHOTOS Mark Williams, Supplied

Planter producer Indigenus is a case study in running a successful design business in South Africa.

Peter van der Post knows a thing or two about rolling with the punches. As founder of Indigenus, a leading Cape-based producer and exporter of high-design planters, over nearly a decade he’s weathered everything from production issues and distributor challenges to expensive marketing fails. But for Peter, it’s all part of the cut and thrust of working in the creative industry – each setback is an opportunity to learn and improve. Indigenus was born in 2014 when Peter, then running a plastics-moulding company, saw a gap in the market for high- end planters that fused memorable designs with natural wood, cork and stone.

There was a steep learning curve ahead, though, from trade fair flops to a crash course in shipping costs. And understanding export pricing was critical, he says. “From the beginning, I knew that our core market would be export, and the price simply has to be higher in the overseas market,” he says. “You have to travel to shows, and if you have to replace a pot, you have to fly it out. You need that extra fat when you’re exporting.”

Terra by Laurie Wiid channels a sense of weight and earthiness.

Building relationships face to face is also key – which is why Peter spent R200 000 on a stand at 100% Design London. But it was a massive failure. “It flopped,” he says. “We got nothing from it. But it flopped because we didn’t have proper distribution on the ground, and we didn’t have the right marketing material. I learnt from that.” It was an important lesson, and one of two key tipping points for Indigenus.

The company then invested heavily in its product catalogue – hiring creative director Cathy O’Clery and photographer Mark Williams – which proved a crucial tool in convincing cautious US and European buyers to place their orders.

Steen by Stefan Antoni and Greg Truen of SAOTA is inspired by the ruggedness of Cape coastal cliffs.

Peter also ran into production issues and, realising that quality control was critical – “It’s all about the details; perfect shape, perfect finish” – in 2019 he took the plunge and opened his own factory, investing heavily in moulds. “It was a big risk, but I’ve learnt that if you’re going to make a repeatable product you must create the best tools you can. It always makes you money in the long run,” he says. “We simply couldn’t launch in Europe if we didn’t make these moulds and tools. And with our current team, we have been able to double our production at a much higher quality.”

Bhaca reflects ceramicist Andile Dyalvane’s connection to his Xhosa roots.

The second tipping point was recognising the value of strategic collaborations with global gravitas. While Indigenus has long worked with hugely respected local designers such as Laurie Wiid and Haldane Martin, the cachet of creating planters designed by the likes of Yabu Pushelberg and Sebastian Herkner carried far more weight among overseas buyers. “Sebastian also introduced us to our agent in Europe, and to our PR company in Europe,” says Peter. “Those kinds of connections are important to help you get a foot in the door.”

The shapes of Tuber by Haldane Martin are a nod to the life beneath the soil.

Nine years on, Peter’s done far more than that, growing Indigenus from a small, cautious southern hemisphere start-up to a respected brand in the world of international design. “From the beginning, we have gone for the very top end of the market – which has been quite daring, in a way,” he says. “Our distributors carry the best brands in the world, and that part of the market doesn’t run out of money. They don’t stop buying.”

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