While Susan le Roux describes her decision to open a bridal shop as one that was a “logical financial decision”, she clearly has a passion for it, with her face lighting up in a smile whenever she talks about brides or dresses.
Susan, an entrepreneur who comes from a financial background, gave up her 20-year career to open Calegra bridal studio in Loop Street.
She said when she was a young girl, she had enjoyed looking through magazines, admiring the glamorous dresses and gowns on the back pages. “My daughter, Carina did the same when she was little,” said Susan.
She said it was her love of fashion, and an eye for spotting what looked good on a bride, combined with her daughter’s idea to start a home-based bridal business, that got the ball rolling.
“After studying something completely different, someone asked my daughter to help with a dress, and she then opened a home-based studio in Pretoria.
“She then asked me if I wouldn’t like to open a store too.
“For the past few years the bridal industry has been booming. In the past, when people got married, it was a church wedding, the family made the food and you had aunties make the dresses. Now, we have designers and destination weddings and venues.
“When I got married, there were none of these things, just one bridal store in Strand Street.”
She said the first bridal store she opened 10 years ago in Stellenbosch was part of a franchise which imported gowns. But three years ago she and her daughter decided to break away and start up a business of their own.
“We approached different designers and became one of the first stores to sell only South African designs. Then we changed the name to Calegra – Ca for my daughter’s name, Carina; le for our surname and gr – for my daughter-in law, Greta.
“Now, we have all South African designer dresses hanging in our store – some of the biggest names in the country.”
And since she moved to the city centre, she said, business has been booming. “Our turnover is more than three times higher since we are in the CBD.
“And one of the perks of having South African designers is that alterations can be done as the bride pleases.
“When dresses are imported, that’s how you should wear it, but sometimes brides want a different neckline, or a different lace, and we can do that for them because the designers are all around us.”
And now, 10 years later, Susan still loves her job as much as the first day she opened her store.
“It’s the biggest joy to get a bride to leave the store happy, with tears in her eyes, or when she stands on the podium and you see that face. It’s amazing. “
Asked about her experiences with difficult brides, she said, the trick was for the assistant to keep as calm as possible.
“Most times, a difficult bride is stressed out. We haven’t had many instances, but the assistant has to be calm and try to assist in a relaxed way.”
She also said it’s the relationship she builds with her clients that she values most.
“From when she walks into the store for the first time until she leaves with a dress under her arm, you get to know the girl and build a relationship with her. And it’s so satisfying to see that plain girl leaving here looking like a swan and feeling beautiful.”
She described the brides in the city centre as more daring than those in Stellenbosch, where women were more conservative.
“City clients are daring, but they know what they want. And the client base is good here. We get lots of appointments and walk-ins from the road too.”
But one of her gripes is the traffic, which, she says, makes it difficult for her clients to come to the studio. But she tries to accommodate them on the weekend. Other than that, Susan loves the vibe of the CBD.
“If only I could find a penthouse here…”