AMY DE CASTRO: MATERIAL GIRL.
Purchasers of the new MINI will receive a perfectly matched Bamboo Revolution wristwatch. We caught up with the company’s founder, Amy De Castro, to talk materials, design and taking time to slow down
How did Bamboo Revolution begin?
Back in 2012, I decided to study an entrepreneurship postgraduate degree at UCT. To be honest, I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship – I just knew I had a passion for business and doing my own thing. We were put into teams of six students and given a short brief [for a business we had to launch]. It had to be something that was new to South Africa, sustainable, and appealing to the student market. A bamboo watch was our third idea after the first two failed at prototype stage.
How did you come up with the idea?
We were inspired by bamboo as a material, and we had seen bamboo sunglasses. We weren’t interested in coming up with a completely new invention. We wanted to take a functional object that people use every day, and redesign it in a more sustainable way. Bamboo is incredible – it’s so versatile. It grows organically and wildly, as well as rapidly without the need for pesticides or any chemicals to enable its growth. With bamboo, you can eat it, you can sleep on it, you can sleep under it, you can wear it. Its uses are endless. It’s such a beautiful material, and it’s something that has obviously become very close to my heart.
Why a watch?
We thought, time is such a beautiful thing – everybody needs time. We wanted to take it back to the simple way of telling time, bearing in mind I always say our design mantra is simplicity: no unnecessary details. We wanted form to follow function. We wanted it to be affordable, good quality and in its most natural form. We didn’t want to add a lot of branding to it.
How did you come up with the look?
It had to be authentic, rustic and suitable for everyone. It’s unisex. It was about sticking to a simple design and neutral colours. Up until recently we only had one face design, and then a few variations on the straps. I always say we don’t sell our watches to people who are necessarily passionate about watches, but rather people who appreciate the design and love the aesthetic. It’s a statement piece for the eco- and fashion-conscious consumer.
How did you end up running the business yourself?
When the course came to an end, we had to dissolve the business as part of the course requirements. Then in 2013, four of us decided to buy back into the business to continue it, but I was spearheading it. The others got jobs and were more like silent shareholders. Within the first two months, I had bought out my three partners to pursue the business and the vision that I had for it.
Why do you think Bamboo Revolution watches appeal to people so much?
A lot of our customers say: “I’ve never worn a watch before, but this one tells a story.” So, for me, it wasn’t about selling a product, but about telling a story that people would be proud to share. I’ve always believed in an organic approach towards business, as well as relationships, which we focus on building with everyone who interacts with our brand. People like the natural material and we have found that they want to get back to simple design. Our product sold itself, but it is our brand that keeps us going.
And you assemble it all in Cape Town?
I have crafters who assemble the components in-house. We prepare to order generally. All the packaging is hand-prepared. That’s quite time-consuming. I realised that recently when I jumped in to help – I hadn’t done it for a while. There are so many different components to the packaging. But I think it goes a long way to making people feel like it’s a product that is hand-prepared with a lot of love and attention to detail.
How did you end up partnering with MINI?
A lot of corporates have approached me, but I had not yet found the perfect fit for my brand. When MINI came along, although it was three-and-half years in, it was the right time. I just felt there was such a synergy between the two brands. They are beautiful cars. Also, when I think of a MINI driver, I think of a trailblazer and an innovator – young professionals who appreciate design. I’d be proud to see someone wearing a Bamboo Revolution watch and driving a MINI.
So you’ve been quite choosy…
It’s not about how many thousands of units big companies order. That’s why it is so important to learn to say no. To maintain your integrity and to have a clear idea of what you want.
What does Bamboo Revolution represent to you?
It’s very much about the lifestyle we aim to portray. To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of strategy behind it. It’s been organic and authentic. Through this process – as much as I’ve learnt about business and people – I’ve also learnt a lot about myself and the kind of lifestyle to which I aspire. I have maintained my values, beliefs and outlook throughout the four years of building my business, and this is portrayed through the brand you see online. It really is my lifestyle. And I am passionate about encouraging people to get out there and get in touch with nature, to slow down and appreciate the moment. Be curious and adventurous.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a similar dream to yours?
People tend to think you need a huge amount of money or a qualification, which I don’t believe is the case at all. I haven’t received any external funding or investors and I have learned and continue to learn as I go. I believe that this is the best way to do it and it’s up to you to make it possible. This is the part I like to share.