Goodnight, sweet ladies; good night, good night
There’s nothing more soothing after a long day than to step into soft, beautiful and perfectly designed sleepwear and to nestle into bed.
This small act of gentle pampering is what the Top Drawer Collection of luxury ready-to-wear and sleepwear is all about. With a strong heritage in personalised sleepwear, the collection was born out of a desire to bring a hint of extravagance and the joy of fine craftsmanship to every woman, giving her the opportunity to be the very best version of herself.
Top Drawer is the brainchild of Carla Frankel, who launched the collection three years ago out of the desire to create a celebratory experience of self- love and appreciation for the finer moments in life, like fine sleepwear, during a time where she needed a little more love herself.
During her second year of university, during a health scare that was comforted by matching pyjamas bought by her mom, she had the “uh-huh” moment that all entrepreneurs are faced with. At the time, there wasn’t anyone in the country doing personalised sleepwear that focused on a bespoke gifting experience. She had found her gap based off of a desire she wanted to fulfil through what she had personally experienced. Top Drawer Collection was built through a deep desire to create a core experience rooted in self-love that would have a positive impact on women and touch them on an emotional level. too
It took her eight months, many pattern drafts and dozens of samples before she was satisfied that she had a range of products she could be truly proud of and represented the diverse spectrum of the female African form.
“I fitted the samples on more than 50 women,” she says, “I even roped in friends, aunts and seamstresses working on the samples because I wanted to be sure I’d have the perfect fit for every body type. The African body is not one size fits all, it took care and precision to create a truly well-fitting garment”
“As importantly, I wanted to focus on quality materials, excellent craftsmanship and a sensory unboxing experience that women would want to share with other women on Instagram. There was no one doing this in the market at the time and, in fact, people were still really unsure about online shopping. So I knew I had to get the brand into the right hands from the start and that I had to deliver an experience women would want to talk about. I needed to add a touch of wonder for it to be a success.”
Within three months of launching, one of South Africa’s biggest influencers, Sarah Langa, asked Carla to provide the gifting for the festive season. As a result, the products were shared on her social media. After working with Sarah, she reached out to a number of key influencers and simply asked them to try out her products and to give her their honest feedback.
“I knew it was important to get celebrities and influencers talking about the products,” she says, “but I felt I needed to build a level of relationship and trust in order to do that. And, quite honestly, I only want someone to speak about Top Drawer Collection if they truly love and believe in the products themselves. That’s why when I reached out to influencers, I didn’t take the approach of what can you do for me, but rather the approach of “I have created a product that I really love and believe in, and I would love to share with you to get your honest feedback”. Ninety percent of the time, the product was shared organically because they saw the vision and wanted to share that with their followers”
Her approach proved to be invaluable. Not only did she manage to build authentic relationships, she also received amazing advice on fit, fabric and overall experience from women who use some of the top brands in the world. A short three months later, a number of South African celebrities and corporates were ordering in and talking about Top Drawer Collection – and the business started to take off.
Another bout of severe illness, coupled with the impact of the pandemic, brought unexpected learning and opened up new doors. As Carla recuperated, millions of people were in lockdown at home – and more and more women were discovering the benefits of beautifully made sleepwear. She also took advantage of her own experience of being in bed for a long period to create a product that is as beautiful as silk but as comfy as cotton; a product that has become the company’s bestseller. And, as demand grew, she took the opportunity to re-look her business model.
When she started up, she outsourced production to local factories, but it had always been her dream to do more than just manufacture products; she wanted to help uplift women too. She wanted to make a positive difference not only in the lives of customers, but in the lives of the makers of the garments in her range and their communities too. And, as clothing factories began shutting down due to the impact of Covid, she was confronted with a serious supply chain challenge. She had a long waiting list for products, but couldn’t get them made quickly enough.
As a first measure, she helped one of the best seamstresses working on her range to establish her own factory and gave her sole South African manufacturing rights for Top Drawer. Currently, she is also in negotiations with international African factories as well as in the midst of setting up an in-house factory to meet continued demand as it grows.
“We are driven by the ideal of bringing timeless design and incredible quality to our customers,” she says, “but Top Drawer Collection is also about ensuring that our products uplift women and that they’re ethically and sustainably made.”
With the foundations of the business now firmly in place, Carla is looking to the future.
We are only in the beginning of our business journey with so much more room to grow. We have overcome the first known hurdle of a business which is the 3 year mark. Our next goal is to take Top Drawer Collection retail concept abroad, with the goal of wanting to put African manufacturing and fashion on the map. In the immediate future, we are continuing to grow Top Drawer Collection aggressively with our first local retail experience currently in the works. In our first 3 years of business we have focused on becoming really well known for our core product, which is personalised sleepwear, and now that we have our clients loyalty and trust, we have so many more products in the works. This is something I always advise entrepreneurs, focus on doing something really well, become known in the industry for doing it really well and then expand. Don’t grow too quickly- patience is such an important part of growing a business.
Sometimes, she says, adversity is only the stepping stone that leads us on to great things – and she plans to make Top Drawer Collection a great international brand.