Running his own business - he's got it in the bag

Lean Boezaart is a CA(SA) and golfer. And he launched his own lifestyle brand selling leather bags.

“A girl had something to do with it…” says Lean Boezaart, of his move to Stellenbosch from Pretoria to complete his accounting studies. The move turned out to be well advised, because he’s now been happily married to that girl – Janina – for more than five years.

After completing his honours, he moved to Cape Town to do his articles at Deloitte, but he’s always had interests outside of accountancy. “After completing my articles in 2011 I took a bit of a detour. I was a decent golfer back in the day so Deloitte sponsored me to play on the Sunshine Tour to chase a childhood dream of mine.”

During his time as a professional golfer he also worked as a CA on flexi time for eight months at a corporate finance company, and then in 2013, he started a business with his brother Roal. “For us it’s always been a case of wanting to shape and create our own destiny,” he says. 

So what sort of business does a qualified CA with a side interest in golf start with his engineer brother? Leather bags, apparently. Lean says:

“Our vision was to create a proudly South African lifestyle brand. Most of the well-known fashion brands we buy locally are imported. So we had the vision, and from there we decided to start with leather as our core raw material. We have good quality leather in South Africa and it is known for its robust and timeless appeal. We had no clue how to make a bag, so we got Benjamin, an artisan from PE who worked in a big leather factory, to move his whole family to Stellenbosch and come and work for us.”

They worked out of a small room at the University of Stellenbosch, with no assets other than Benjamin, a very old leather stitching machine and a big dream. They initially made only a few bags (it took about six months to get the concept right) then tested the product on their friends and connections in res at the university. The feedback was that leather products were definitely something that students wanted, and so Freedom of Movement was born.

Today, the company has expanded into a lifestyle brand with bricks-and-mortar outlets and an online presence, selling shoes and sunglasses as well as the original bags. Lean says:

“We set up a small factory and it grew from there. We now employ 20 people, and a lot more through the local factories we use for shoes and leather bags. Some of our original artisans have now moved across to the factories that we outsource production to. We have six stores and we’re opening our seventh and eighth in South Africa in September. We also have a large online presence and a significant portion of our revenue is driven through our own online platform (www.freedomofmovement.co.za). We’ve also started exporting to Europe and Australia, and will continue to explore International opportunities going forward."

Lean’s CA qualification helps him to run the business, even though Freedom of Movement has its own accounting team. “My role is a lot more strategic, but I can oversee and understand the numbers, and do the required high-level forecasting and cashflow management.” He says that Freedom of Movement is his career and he believes he’ll always want to do his own thing. He adds:

“I’m not completely against the idea of working as a CA, but I probably wouldn’t go back into the corporate world in a financial role.”