Canvas and Kangas: standing out from the crowd

It all started with a shopping bag. Now two years later, the brand that has successfully merged the free spirit of the coast with the functionality required by the urban city, has become a fully-fledged operation. One that can easily hold their own ground locally and in the international arena. TDS catches up with Canvas and Kangas founder, Denise Noordemeer, to find out what this slice of paradise apparel has in the works since our last conversation (Which you can read here and here):

  • We’ve noticed an increase in your copyright notices on your website. Did something happen to kick up the protection ante?

Canvas & Kangas is a fast growing brand and being so it also becomes more visible to everyone. We found out that people are trying to copy our work and methods.

All the people involved in our brand are hardworking and really put a lot of effort and soul into it. It can be frustrating when others are just simply trying to make a quick shilling out of our hard work.

To protect your work, brand, employees and your customers you need to take some steps. One of them is to warn people not to steal ideas and respect others work.

We now have some scouts who are on the lookout for copycats, but our experience is that copying our concepts and ideas is not that easy. Most of them are very poor quality, no concept of design and without the heart and soul we put into each and every one of our handbags.

It strengthens us in our belief that what we do and how we do it is unique and truly comes from the heart.

On the other hand it also tells us we are getting noticed and people do recognise us as a brand to watch out for.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • Have you had copyright issues in the past?

First of all we haven’t had lots of copyright issues or problems with fake bags.

Each copy we come across is investigated by our scouts. We try to find out who is making them and confront them. We also took action in filing for African and global patent rights through the designated organisations such as the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This is a long process, which takes a lot of money, but in the long run it will help to protect your (African) brand.

We also are now more aware we are the ‘ORIGINAL’ one. In this way we are not only telling our customers that we are the ones from the original handbag, but also sends a message that buying a different one which isn’t a Canvas & Kangas one won’t be the real deal.

  • You work with two common materials in the country… how do you ensure your product stands out?

The strength of our brand lies exactly in those materials. They are truly Kenyan materials, made by Kenyans and made in Kenya. In this we created a Kenyan brand, which all (Kenyans) understand and recognise. In this recognition lies a part of our strength. Customers already ”know” what it is. You don’t have to explain it anymore. It is true emotion and recognition.

The second part of our strength is in the constant evolvement of our handbags. Because of the limited amount of kangas that are produced and can be used for designing and manufacturing the bags, each bag becomes unique and rare at the moment we make it. Most of the brands have a collection and produce each bag in the same colour and shape so everyone can enjoy them, but we are different: our collection is changing all the time but the design isn’t. You never know what kind of beautiful handbags we will design within two weeks. It keeps our customers time and time again waiting in anticipation for what we will come up with. In this we keep the attention of our customers. It has also created recurring customers, because we keep their attention through a constant changing collection.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • How do you source the materials and where?

Quality and craftsmanship are the two main issues within our manufacturing process that we pride ourselves on. Not only do we employ tailors that have a lifelong experience in working with canvas, but are also aware that each bag needs the same high standard we demand of them and also our customers demand.

We buy our materials through master tailors and scouts. All our materials are made in Kenya and mostly buy them in Mombasa or in Nairobi.

We only use the highest grade of canvas available and work only with three colours for our designs. In this way we can keep the quality of the canvas in check by not having too many colours. Each batch of canvas is labelled and checked by a master tailor and a scout to ensure we have the grade of canvas we want. Each bag we produce has a label number so we know what type of canvas we used and which batch. If we ever hear of problems with a bag we can check also the quality of the batch through the label number.

Our kangas are all bought and found in the Kenyan coast. We have our chief designer and designers scouting the shops in Mombasa for new, but also older kangas. They know exactly which one to look for (not all kangas patterns or designs can be used to make our handbags).

We also travel up and down the coast frequently to visit the small villages and dukas to search for older kangas which are not available anymore in Mombasa. We truly find superb ones just by visiting those small shops.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • With the thorough checking process, how long does it take to create a bag and how many do you make per cycle/month?

Ideally we prefer to take 10 days to design and finish a handbag. We also try to assign one project manager and just one tailor in making the bag. In this way we can assure the highest quality. They, together with the designer, become part of the handbag they produce. It’s what we call ”putting some soul into them”.

In designing and manufacturing a handbag we take our time. We give the tailor the freedom to look for better options to do the stitching or the designer to choose a better way of cutting the kanga. In this way each customer gets what they want: a personal experience and a unique handbag just for you.

A part of our production time is reserved for training. The master tailors train the younger tailors in producing all items of our collection. Also we have master classes in which the tailors together come up with ideas in doing their job even better. This cuts into production time, but it gives us exactly what we are as a brand: we are working to get you the best Canvas & Kangas bag available.

At the moment we have a capacity for about 100 bags per month, but we limit this to 50. This to ensure the best possible quality for each bag.

  • [Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

    [Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

    Can a customer custom-make any of your designs with the colour, print and message of their choosing?

At the moment we have a great collection of handbags and items, which suits all kinds of customers and budgets. When ordering a handbag or item you simply contact us and tell us what kind of handbag you like.

In designing a handbag from our collection starts with asking a customer about his or her colour preferences. In this way we can start searching for a matching kanga. We have about 250 kangas in stock all the time and we never had any problems matching one or more with the desires of a customer.

After the customer found the kanga he or she loves we then match it with one of the three canvas colours we use: khaki crème, jungle green and chocolate brown. We deliberately choose these colours because they are the best match with the majority of the kanga colour patterns.

The designer will then do a proposal based on the kanga the customer chooses. This means we look at the kanga, the handbag and the way we can cut the kanga to be used on the outside but also on the inside of the bag. Also we check if to use the proverb or not or if the customer has preferences in using it.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

When the customer likes the design we then confirm this in an order confirmation and invoice, so each customer knows exactly what she will get. Each bag (to be manufactured) gets a unique (order) number, which will tell us exactly which bag this is. When a customer comes back to us we can trace it back to design and order confirmation.

After agreement on the order confirmation we then start producing the bag at the workshop. When the bag is finished, it is checked by the tailor and the project manager and then goes to a master tailor. Only after they sign of on it, it will go back to the office in Diani Beach where it is checked again by our lead project manager. Only then the bag is ready to be packaged and sent to the client.

Ordering a handbag from our stock or a personal one is the same price because the same amount of work goes into each one of them.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • Any new collections or designs in the works?

We are working on a new design as we speak and we get asked about it almost daily. All the tailors are getting nervous and want to know more! (Only one master tailor is in involved in the prime design).

The design as always is an extension of how we think about Africa, Kenya and what inspires us to do this: our passionate belief in Africa and the colours and materials we use. We also try to be creative in a way that it is easy now to produce a backpack because everyone does so or wants us to do so. So it won’t be a backpack for sure……stay tuned.

  • You also recently changed the logo…

Our logo is a representation of who we are. Each logo is hand printed with special mixed paint on black cotton. Each one is made individually for a specific bag.

Our brand is evolving and so is our logo. We experimented with shapes and different places to attach it. In the end we found a perfect mix in using a smaller logo, which is in the right place on each item. The former logo had a great feel to it but did not match our high quality expectations anymore. We also wanted to tone down and put more focus on the bag instead of a fun logo. The handbags speak for themselves…

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • You already have the cushions, are you planning to branch further into interior design or clothing?

When we set out to do this we always wanted to be first and foremost and handbag brand. This is also something we are really good at. The pillows and cushions fit right into our philosophy and brand values, but we are aware that others are equally successful in doing so. We are exploring new boundaries in interior design but take it slow.

  • Plans for the company moving forward; what can we expect in end 2016/ early 2017

We just finished a photoshoot in Diani Beach to be used for the second part of this year. It will further highlight our brand and who we are. We are now also planning to be more visible in Mombasa/Nyali area so people can buy our bags also easily instead of going to the South Coast.

We are also setting up shop in Nairobi, which will give the brand a major boost. Most of our clientele are from Nairobi and being directly available in a shop in Nairobi will make the difference. This will be in cooperation with The Designer’s Studio, which is opening a shop in the Two Rivers Shopping Mall in Runda, Nairobi. We are eagerly awaiting to send our beautiful bags to Nairobi.

Also being available exclusively on is a major boost. In anticipation of the opening of the Two Rivers shop we are bringing in more bags in the online shop so the people of Nairobi can get our handbags more easily.

We also are expanding in Europe. We are now available in selective and exclusive stores in Spain, Italy, Greece and Croatia.

In 2017 one of our goals is to expand into Eastern Africa and also South Africa in setting up a cooperation for shops in Johannesburg and Cape Town. We are setting big steps towards those goals.

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

[Image: Courtesy of Canvas and Kangas]

  • Parting shot: Ten top tips to creating a successful brand image?

Stick to your brand principles. Don’t deviate from them because everyone else has an opinion.

– Keep evolving your brand and ask yourself tough questions. Evolving is not changing your brand principles but understanding them better

– Take your time to build your brand. It’s like old wine, it needs to develop in time

– Protect your brand. It’s yours. Keep a good eye on it and secure your assets.

– Share your brand. You will be amazed what you learn from other entrepreneurs and customers

– Make a plan how to expand your brand. Start setting goals and keep track of them.

– Involve others in your brand. In this (positive) way you will get so much new insights, which will benefit the growth of your brand.

– It’s not a hobby. Treat your brand like a business and be business-like.

– Build a good foundation for your brand. Think hard and long about marketing and the way you are communicating your brand to the world. It’s your calling card.

– Have fun. Most important.



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