Research Unit’s Erin-Lee and Chad Petersen invited us to their workshop to have a chat about being a husband-wife team, selling an iPhone for capital and building their empire together.Erin is the picture of the modern day businesswoman; bold, independent and ambitious. She is the fire to Chad’s cool persona and together, they have created a sophisticated brand that oozes quality.
They are the business owners of Research Unit, a progressive luxury leather brand where all products and accessories are designed and manufactured in-house, as well as all their marketing, finance and HR.
The two met when they were working in retail. Erin invited Chad for a smoke and they had their first quarrel over his choice of cigarette.
After completing her studies, Erin started doing employer branding journalism for a Swedish company based in Cape Town while Chad was in Sweden at the time, continuing his studies in industrial design. Her company decided to move back home when she returned to retail and still worked part time for radio.
“This is when I realised the quality of work being made elsewhere in the world and the same quality that wasn’t coming out of South Africa”.
They then moved to Apsley, looking at every detail of the bags from Bottega and Celine, scrutinising how it was made. She then started buying offcuts of leather and decided that she was going to make a blackberry cover which proved difficult for her as she did not come from a design background but luckily her boyfriend did. She understood the marketing side of things, knowing what would sell and how it should look because of her journalism and retail background.
“I always knew we would have our own store one day”
Chad came into her room one day and found her sitting on the floor, cutting strips of leather and asked her what the hell she was doing. With product design being his forte and always coming up with solutions, he took to Youtube and researched everything he could about leather, discovering that the fabric can be manipulated and moulded to your shape of choice.
After watching what seemed like a million videos on Youtube, hustling everyday to and from the only laser cutter that was based in Brackenfell, to getting Chad’s mother to help manufacture their backpacks, Research Unit was born.
Their relationship progressed and they were ready to take the next step. Chad was pre-warned about Erin’s difficult ways by her own father when he asked to have his daughter’s hand in marriage. He still went ahead with it and the couple have been married for five years now.
They describe their first year of marriage as the most difficult as they did not stay together before and were not used to sharing a space with someone else.
‘He says he likes order, she refers to him as a hoarder’.
Erin tells us that she did not expect him to be as domesticated as he is; she would come home from work in the morning and the house would be clean, something she is really grateful for.
“We were never interested in playing games or watching sport, except basketball; it was more about spending time and making cool shit like Research Unit!” – Chad
It was then that the two realised this would become something big when they were invited to participate in the Emerging Designers Indaba. They weren’t prepared for the response they received.
They sat down and discussed how they could get the necessary capital needed to start their business. They didn’t qualify for a business loan as they were not registered so they decided to buy an iPhone on contract, sell it and pay back the money in instalments.
One can automatically tell that these two are completely passionate about what they do and that all their hard work can be seen in the end product. They now operate a warehouse with a total of 10 employees, proudly and confidently stating that everything is produced right there.
‘When asked what they love about working with each other, he says the best part of his day is getting to see her and that they get to share their ideas’.
The two say that they will definitely recommend couples to start their own business together.
They say that essentially once your minds start synchronising, you start feeding off each other and you start sharing the same consciousness.
“Usually couples would only be a couple if you feed off each other. If you don’t share that, then you shouldn’t be a couple. If it works, it works very well!”
According to Chad, the most successful businesses are run by husband-wife teams. Erin pushes the company in terms of marketing and finance, always working with strict deadlines, whereas Chad will be pushing production. All designs are a collaboration of their shared ideas.
“He gets my psycho”.
Short-term plans for Research Unit are to start putting out proper collections, strengthen their international business relationships and they will be participating in SA Fashion Week in April with a luxury leather goods stall. Most of their clients are design savvy individuals and tourists from the U.S, Scandanavia and Texas etc. stocking stores like Rhoome (Switzerland), Original Africa (Czech Republic) and the Little Black Dress(Zurich). Locally, the full range can be found at the Research Unit store in the watershed, Waterfront, or at the Neighbourgoods market at the Old Biscuit Mill on a Saturday in Woodstock.