The Wren Design: turning paper into something extraordinary
Megan5 Oct, 2021
Previously, when I thought about how paper is used, I would think about books and newspapers. After hearing about The Wren Design, I now think about device covers, travel bags, and wallets.
Founded by Wendren Setzer in 2008, The Wren Design turns ordinary packaging paper into extraordinary products that’ll protect your valuables from dust and debris. “[Our products] challenge your perception of what paper can withstand,” says Wendren. “You wouldn’t think that paper could do much, so you’ll throw it in the bin. But paper is strong, and you can do wonderful things with it.”
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We caught up with Wendren to find out how The Wren Design gives paper new life, and how her business has evolved over the years.
You believe that creativity happens when experiences are connected. What experiences led to you opening up The Wren Design?
I was working in the corporate industry as a textile designer, and I wasn’t enjoying it. As I was driving to buy shoes at a factory one day, I drove past a PPC cement truck. I looked at it and thought, ‘Wow, they have amazing branding. I would love to have a bag made out of that!’
When I got to the shoe factory, they showed me how they made satin strong. I wondered if the same process could make paper strong so I could stitch it. So I got hold of some paper, and we developed a PPC cement laptop bag. That was the starting point of the company.
You now also have travel bags, backpacks, and wallets. How do you choose what to add to your product line?
Sometimes it comes from customer’s feedback, and what they would like to see from us. Other times it’s a result of the material we have on hand. For instance, we went from making a laptop bag to developing an iPad sleeve. And that was because a cement bag is often made with three layers of paper. The middle layer is brown and unbranded, and we wanted to use that paper. So we started stitching that into iPad sleeves.
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How has The Wren Design evolved over the years?
We took a huge leap and kickstarted the business in 2008 at the Design Indaba. It was a wonderful platform to launch off of. From there we started selling our products at international exhibitions, and those were great. Over the years, our small company turned into a multi-million rand company. I’m proud of how it has grown from an idea that started with just R5000.
Now we’ve made a difference in the lives of the people who work with us. I’m especially proud that we were awarded a B Corp certification this year. The certification says that we are a sustainable, ethical, do-good company.
What would you say helped you scale your business?
A lot of credit can be given to the training and development programmes run by The Craft and Design Institute, as well as the programmes run by the South African and the Netherlands governments. I was very fortunate to be in those programmes.
The programme run by the Netherlands was a five-year programme that focused on getting your business export-ready. They work with your product range, and help you do a trade show where a curator comes to style your show. I’m so thankful for those programmes. It helped me take my products to international markets, and provided me with the opportunity to network with other brands. I now share a Waterfront shop with two of the brands I met during those programmes.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out?
I would tell them to persevere, and to enjoy every moment of it. Building a successful company doesn’t happen overnight. For some companies, it does happen overnight, and they’re incredibly lucky. But for most of us, it takes perseverance.
One of the core aspects of your business is being able to empower women. Why is this important to you, and how are you able to achieve this?
I think a lot of it has to do with my principles and the respect I have for other people. For me, it’s about not treating people as machines who pump out things, but knowing that we each have our challenges, and if we come together we can be stronger.
It’s also about respecting that regardless of whether you’re male or female, you should be paid fairly for the work you do. It shouldn’t be based on a minimum wage or an arbitrary pay scale. It just doesn’t sit well with me that a founder or CEO earns a hundred times more than their lowest-paid staff member. We are all in this together, so we should all enjoy the benefits of working hard.
Has your commitment to treating your employees with respect made a difference in the way they work, and the relationships you’ve built?
Yes. This past year has been tough. We’ve had to downsize as a result of a decrease in demand. Every staff member that’s had to leave, or who has chosen to leave for a different job, has written the most incredible stories about their journeys at Wren, and have asked that if we ever get busy again, could they please come back.
There are jobs that you can be really unhappy in, and I don’t believe that’s how you should live your life.
Why did you choose to incorporate SnapScan into your business?
It just made perfect sense. When we were at the Design Indaba, we needed a way for people to pay quickly. We now also have it at our studio, and customers can pay so easily on it. We also use SnapScan on our online store, and our customers love it. I think one in every five of our customers pays using SnapScan. So we have quite a high rate of customers that pay with SnapScan. I also love that SnapScan settles every 24 hours which means the money comes into our bank account quite quickly.
What is next for The Wren Design?
We’re focusing on rebuilding. I feel as though we’re still breaking down, and it’s going to be a journey to get back to a point where we are growing, as opposed to downscaling. It would be foolish to say we’ve got these giant dreams of growth. We first need to rebuild, and then we can grow again. Until then, we’ll keep waiting for those magical moments to happen, because you never know what’s going to come next.
Ready to add an eco-friendly product to your life? Head to The Wren Design’s online store to browse their collection.
If you’d like to share your business’ SnapScan story with us, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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