She grew up between Paris and Aix-en-Provence, but it’s in South Africa that this solar blonde decided to settle 3 years ago. At almost 25 years old, Julie Hatchuel is already at the head of an agency for events, communication, artistic image and marketing baptized This is Cape Town, a cute reminder of her adopted city. In Paris for the launch of South Africa at BHV Marais, the event showcasing the new South African creative scene she works on in collaboration with Artlogic society, Mr Gérard Laffargue and BHV Marais this multi-talented entrepreneuse tells her about her aspirations, her successes, her dark periods and her expat’ life.
What were you doing before leaving for Cape Town ?
After attending a Parisian business school of the ICD group, I graduated with a double diploma in economics Intelligence from Sciences Po, followed by a Masters in fashion and luxury, before joining the team of the Parisian events agency and its intense rhythm.
What made you decide to launch your own agency in South Africa?
Before Publicis Events, I went to join my boyfriend at the time in South Africa, who was there on a mission for his job. I stayed one month, it was a heart throb— almost obsessional. I came back to Paris and one day, I said to myself that this was the moment to branch out. So rather than stay in Paris to follow a classic course in a large structure, I felt like living an experience: doing something a little different and tempting my chance over there. Furthermore, I graduated very young, so I had time in front of me.
You left alone, how was your installation?
I am pretty street smart, so it was not a source of anxiety. During my studies, I had already live in India and spoke English fluently. I quickly found an apartment and persons with whom I could work, even if the first year was not easy. To start your own business in South Africa, you need 300 000 euros of investment. You must also know that for a white and foreign woman, it’s even more complicated to be accepted in the business. Furthermore, the rand, the local currency, collapsed. Once launched, I had to take another look at my strategy.
How did you bounce back?
With the network I had put together in France and my knowledge of local customs, my idea was to accompany European clients wanting to work on the South African market. We took care of hotel communication, we organized pop-up stores with brands such as Jérôme Dreyfus and the Twins for Peace trainers. When the rand crashed, a 300€ Jérôme Dreyfus bag cost 18 times more ! This was the time to launch into export and help South African designers to be known on the French market—this was how the idea was born of South Africa, the event currently presented at the BHV/Marais.
The advantages de expatriation?
I live like a princess ! Life is very cheap there. You can have a great lunch for 10 € and in the evening, there are cool restaurants for 20€ wine included. I was able to rent myself a real office, employee state fees are not sky high and taxes are reasonable. There is no time change, so it’s easy to work, to set up appointments on the phone or skype. There are many exhibitions, concerts—I became friends with other expats. There is a small French community in Cape Town, about 3000 persons, but I hang out more with English and Germans…
My favourite spots? Blue cafe & Skinny Legs for breakfasts, Hemelhuijs for brunch and The Kitchen, a restaurant nestled in the vines.
Your event South Africa at BHV/Marais achieved unanimity. How do you explain this success?
In France, people are tired of European brands that resemble each other more and more. They want to buy a story, a provenance, and not just a made in China product. As for the South Africans, they are very « proudly South African », they need to feel enhanced. The purpose of this project was an occasion to present what is best in South Africa and to set forth the creative aspect of the country.
I put it together from A to Z with Mr Gérard Laffargue, my Parisian partner and with Artlogic, the company of our partner, Mandla Sibeko, who helped us with the funding—not an easy task— and who was in charge of all the logistical aspect of the event. We spent one year selecting the 40 brands between Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Some are new, others more established, but everything is relative. Twenty years ago, there was still apartheid, the most well-known ones are barely 10 years old.
What are the 3 labels to follow closely?
Amongst my heart throbs, there is Pichulik, rather imposing ethnic jewellery pieces, made with ropes, that are very successful in South Africa. In another spirit, I truly like the precious creations of Dear Rae, inspired by African culture and presented in gold, pink gold and silver. Tops, Ashanti Design for the sustainable aspect. They design cushions, poufs and baskets, made from fabric scraps from around the world.
Do you intend to come back to France one day?
Yes. I intend to come back to Paris while keeping my office over there and continue working with the South African state on the promotion of the country. After 3 years spent here, I miss my family and my friends, the political situation is off-center, the social life is totally different and I am quite sure that I will not find the man of my life in South Africa! Since I work all day long in English, in the evening I need to be with someone who speaks my language.
On a professional level, it’s an incredible experience, but it was also a combat. I am quite aware of that—for them, I will always be a foreigner.