Lunga Ntuli might have started by writing books on love and relationships, but his journey has opened new doors for him while creating much-needed jobs, writes Maggie Wittstock.
A stolen glance, a secret note slipped into a palm. Communicating love has spawned sonnets and songs, novels and millions of social media posts. In Zulu tradition, it’s the beads that do the talking. Weaving a patterned bracelet for the man of her dreams, a maiden communicates meaning through colours and designs. By wearing the bracelet, the man shows the world he is “taken” – proudly broadcasting the beaded message.
When the creator of LN Watches, Lunga Ntuli, came up with the concept, he was looking for a tangible way to extend the journey he had started by writing books on love and relationships.
Lunga, who is based in Groutville and has deep roots in the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, comes up with the designs for the watches, while the straps are beaded by teams of local women in Groutville and KwaNyuswa.
“I wanted to create a global brand,” says Lunga. “Something of quality that could be worn anywhere in the world. Something that would look good with a suit as well as casual wear.”
One of Lunga’s most gratifying moments was seeing a well-dressed businessman take off his Swiss timepiece to put on an LN Watch. “It warmed my heart,” he says. “We don’t want to replace those top-end brands,” he adds, “but we are happy to have a time and place alongside them, as something different.”
Although the colours used in the designs draw on Zulu cultural heritage, the patented watches are made to be appreciated as unique pieces of functional jewellery.
“I have some customers buying specific colour combinations because they want to wear the watch with an outfit to an event,” says Lunga. “And that is great. We don’t dictate what the designs should be, although you will notice that most incorporate black which symbolises unity.”
Popular with corporates as unique gifts, the beaded designs can be customised to reflect a brand’s colours.
However, fulfilling corporate orders is a challenge as each watch is made up of over 1 000 beads which are woven by hand. Lunga says the larger corporate orders have allowed him to fine-tune production and take his business up a notch. Special cotton is used for the beading, making sure the straps are strong and durable. Lunga also places an emphasis on the small touches – like the LN initials on the buckle. “We make sure every watch is special,” he says. “Even with the bigger orders, you can tell when a watch has been woven with love and not made just for the sake of it.”
Customers who order their second, third and fourth watches are a strong indication that they’re happy with their purchase. After offering a few different sizes and colour faces, Lunga learnt to keep it simple with a unisex size available in black or white.
A premium-priced option is the Rhino collection. With these watches, the face is dismantled and a beautiful rhino is hand-painted on the face before the watch is re-assembled. “The idea is that we could extend it to a Big 5 range,” says Lunga.
Looking back, Lunga explains that LN Watches was part of the Trade and Investment KZN’s delegation to London for Africa Fashion Week in 2019.
“That really opened the world up for us,” says Lunga. “Interviews with The New York Times, the BBC and CNN Africa gave LN exposure to a new group of interested buyers,” he says.
Not new to digital marketing, LN Watches has had an e-commerce website since it started in 2016. “We sell online and through Instagram,” says Lunga. “Our main channels are digital which helps with sales into Africa and abroad,” he adds. “But, since Covid, we’ve been relying heavily on customers closer to home, selling at markets and local shows.
“International courier costs have hit us hard, and although we still have interest and orders coming in, the volume has dropped off,” he emphasises. “But, support from local buyers has kept me going, and I’m grateful to people like Erica Platter – who my family has a long history with – who has bought LN Watches from me and introduced them to her friends.”
FOR MORE INFO:
Contact Lunga Ntuli on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lnwatches.co.za.