Catching Kelly Withey Mara, the founder of Maison Mara, a Cape Town fashion boutique, for an interview during our packed Fashion Week when we were both in Paris last time. Still remember it was a stunning sunny afternoon that we met up at Le Progress – a very Parisian café for our interview, and gabbed it up after we sat down, with a cup of coffee in our hand.
Cynthia Lo: Hi Kelly, it’s great to catch you at Paris Fashion Week. Could you tell us a bit of yourself, and also your educational and professional background?
Kelly Withey Mara: Hello! I grew up in Africa and moved to Paris to study fashion design. After working in Paris for a few years, I decided to move to Cape Town to launch Maison Mara, one of Africa’s first concept stores.
Kelly Withey Mara: After travelling to Cape Town many times, I realized there were very few French brands available. I began a long process of market research and found out that there was a definite demand for international fashion brands in South Africa. A lot of the luxury fashion stores are in malls so I wanted to innovate by opening in the city in an unusual space combining fashion, art, accessories and skincare.
Cynthia Lo: What was the most difficult part you found when founding Maison Mara? And how did you overcome it?
Kelly Withey Mara: There are many obstacles when starting a new business venture. Although each one seems insurmountable, they are also what give you the motivation to keep fighting! I try to tackle each one at a time.
Kelly Withey Mara: My family lives in Cape Town so that was one of the reasons for choosing here over anywhere else. I saw a gap in the market here and decided to go for it. The local fashion industry in Cape Town is very dynamic and in constant growth. A few designers to follow are Adriaan Kuiters and Rich Mnisi and House of Gozdawa for perfumes.
Kelly Withey Mara: I think the obvious pro of having a palpable space is human contact. The idea is to create a different retail experience where our clients can feel at home, enjoy a coffee, have a chat and spend time with us. Online stores have the benefit of being accessible to everyone at all times. I think a combination of online and a real store would be perfect!Cynthia Lo: As a business owner, I’m curious about your work routine… could you share a bit of your daily work routine with us? And more importantly, how do you balance work and life?
Kelly Withey Mara: My work routine is different everyday day. I work from the store most of the time if I am not in Paris for my buying. A typical workday could be anything from visual merchandising, accounting, dealing with suppliers/deliveries or being on the shop floor with clients.
Kelly Withey Mara: There are so many cool places to recommend but here is my top three! 1/ Hemelhuijs is the perfect lunch spot when you are exploring the city centre. 2/ When in Cape Town, a visit to the wine lands is a must, Babylonstoren is a beautiful place to eat and stay. 3/ Smith Gallery is one of my favorite art galleries in town. A must see!Cynthia Lo: Any upcoming plans both for your work and your personal life that you want to share?
Kelly Withey Mara: We will be launching a Maison Mara candle in collaboration with Lola James Harper this year, which is very exciting for us. And my partner is opening a menswear store in Cape Town in March so we have a busy year ahead of us!
Called: Kelly Withey Mara
Location: Cape Town
Set: Paris, France