7 South African Entrepreneurs Who Went From Nothing To Global Success

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Callie and Francois van der Merwe broke new ground through partnerships


Callie explains the company’s evolution: “Francois and I both studied architecture but as time marched on, retail commissions seemed to roll in at an ever-increasing pace. Retail and Hospitality design chose us. It is almost as if we had no say in the matter.” The partners launched The Design Partnership Retail & Hospitality division, anticipating and exploiting synergies between retail and architectural design.


“The boundaries between the design disciplines were purposefully eroded to encourage more interaction and yielded great results,” continues Callie, adding that one of the most defining trends in the world of design today is that of blurring the lines between design disciplines.


How to be focused and niche

The lines between architecture and interior design, graphic and product design, even fashion and food design, are less clear than they have ever been in the past.

Understanding the interaction between the disciplines, particularly in the retail and foodie markets where fashion trends dictate what’s vogue, The Design Partnership has excelled at delivering innovative retail and hospitality projects, among them Doppio Zero, Mugg &Bean and Carducci.

The more entrenched the company became in the retail design space, the more they recognised the need to tie the location, interior and exterior design in with the brand.

As Callie outlines: “A project generally begins with a brainstorming session about a current market offering, its competitors, where it is hoping to penetrate the market and where it would like to position itself in that market.”


The team then comes up with a single-minded message – a ‘soundbite’ –that reflects the essence of the brand. “The soundbite is the thing that will help a brand to penetrate the market, so that’s where you need to start.


“It’s the thing that draws people to a place. When they get there, the interior and the furniture and the location will have an impact and play an important role in reflecting the brand, but the soundbite is what gets them there in the first place,” he elaborates.


One of their more recent projects is FSH, a seafood restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg. John explains how The Design Partnership developed its soundbite: “Major competitors in the same market already owned words such as ‘ocean’ so we had to come up with a soundbite that would get as close as possible to the restaurant’s core offering.


“We couldn’t use a generic word like ‘fish’ so instead we used FSH – when people read it they automatically fill in the ‘i’. It gives them ownership of that word in that market.” Brandertising projects such as this one have taken The Design Partnership’s business to a new level.


This is a team that understands that to be a leader in business is not about carving a niche for oneself in an existing cliff face; it’s about discovering a new mountain and summiting it before anyone else realises it’s even there.

7 South African EntrepreneursCallie and Francois van der Merwe broke new ground through partnerships0



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