As South Africans celebrate our diverse and fascinating heritages in September, it’s only fitting to honour the 40th birthday of a brand entrenched in our country’s culture – K-Way. Executive Chairman of the Board, Phillip Krawitz, along with Strategic Brand Director Martine Vogelman, talk about K-Way’s 40-year journey to become one of the most distinct and proudly South African brands in the country.
For the past four decades, K-Way has played a significant role in South African heritage as a local, sustainable brand contributing to job creation and business development in the country.
Forty years ago, K-Way set out on an adventure to produce the very best in technical and leisure apparel. Their goal was to ensure that customers were always sufficiently geared up to face the elements, no matter where they found themselves in the world. Today, K-Way is a leader in innovative design, technology, environmentally-friendly business practices, and proud ambassadors of South African heritage.
Krawitz shares, “When our customers get outdoors, travelling the world or exploring the incredible beauty our own country has to offer, standing on a mountain with a cold wind, or walking a beach with your family on a hot day – know that behind your gear is another family of proud South Africans. But K-Way is always ready for a new adventure, and we now look forward to celebrating this milestone with everyone.”
Proudly South African
K-Way’s journey started in 1981 when Cape Union Mart acquired the old Hepworth’s factory in Cape Town’s city centre. At the time, Cape Union Mart had a thriving uniforms division called Sparks & Ellis and the factory was initially purchased to provide a manufacturing arm for the division. Arthur Krawitz, the father of the current Chairman, was running Cape Union Mart at the time, was known to do things “the K-Way” – the ‘K’ representing Krawitz. As such, the factory was renamed K-Way.
Soon, the factory began manufacturing products for its retail operation, which became branded K-Way. And so, one of South Africa’s most famous brands was born.
Krawitz emphasises that K-Way has always been a proudly South African-born brand, conceptualised and designed in the country. “Today, thousands of products are manufactured in the Cape Town factory through the line synonymous with the K-Way brand – HOMESEWN. We strive to create jobs for South Africans by upskilling our workers to manufacture products to an international standard.”
The pride of what the K-Way team does is evident in the details with skilled artisans and cutting-edge technology. From the materials and the stitching to the design and the testing, this award-winning gear is designed to provide comfort, protection and style when you need it the most. Since its conception, K-Way has continued to deliver high-quality products of an international standard but at affordable prices.
Vogelman continues, “We stand for technical excellence, affordability, and in recent years have also incorporated a fashion element to our gear. We also love the standing joke that when South Africans (used to) travel, you could spot the SAA counter by all the people wearing K-Way jackets. We are proud of our products and proud of our heritage.”
A Passion For What They Do
According to Vogelman, all K-Way products must satisfy four criteria:
The quality must exceed customers’ expectations.
The products must represent excellent value for money.
The products must meet the purpose for which they were designed.
Where practical, the products should have unique value-added features.
“We have a state-of-the-art factory in Ottery, Cape Town that is run by one of the most passionate factory managers we could ever ask for, Bobby Fairlamb. Bobby is supported by a strong management team. Our factory works extremely closely with our head office design team and boasts some of the latest, most innovative equipment and technologies.”
Vogelman also shares that COVID-19 has taught the brand the critical importance of owning its own supply lines. “Our Group currently has two local factories employing over 600 people. We are also looking to expand local production. Over the past few years, the Cape Union Mart Group has had an aggressive store rollout plan. This means employing more staff and feeding more mouths. At Cape Union Mart, our people are at the heart of everything we do.”
“Even in our darkest days, when our K-Way factory was making losses, our Group decided to keep our workers employed and help them feed their families. We are so thankful we made that call as the factory has now turned itself around. Of course, when South Africans support a local brand like K-Way, they are helping create jobs. The more demand there is for our product, the more products need to be manufactured and the more jobs we can create. It’s a winning cycle for everyone,” she continues.
Designed By South Africans, For South Africans
K-Way has always been designed with South Africans in mind.
Vogelman notes that South Africa is different from other nations. “With our moderate climate, we need jackets that keep us warm in extreme overseas climates and inside our homes in South Africa, which are not centrally heated.”
“The entry of down into the market many years ago forced us to adapt from the traditional fleece products we were selling and engage with the latest technologies. The current economy and the pressure on prices remind us that we need to keep our prices competitive without ever compromising on quality. The technologies we use and the quality we deliver are key factors that differentiate us from our competitors. But what is most important is that we never stop considering our customers’ needs.”
Krawitz says the future of K-Way looks bright. “We are proud of our country and our brand. We have every intention of staying true to what the brand stands for and continuing to push boundaries, learn new technologies and deliver the very best products to our customers. Some of our new limited-edition capsules have been incredibly well-received by our customers. As such, we’re excited to celebrate the brand’s 40th birthday with the launch of an exclusive, limited-edition clothing collection, called 40YY, or 40YearsYoung. Our commitment to all our stakeholders will always be our number one priority, and this is best encapsulated by our Group purpose of “Feeding passions, Improving lives”.
To other brands in the country, Krawitz advises being proud of your South African roots. “Tell your story, deliver on your promises, and only have one standard – the global best standard,” he concludes.