Cheron Kraak: Originator of Billabong South Africa

CHERON KRAAK: ORIGINATOR OF BILLABONG SOUTH AFRICA

Cheron KraakCheron Kraak was the owner of the Billabong franchise in South Africa from its inception as well as the Country Feeling clothing industry for over thirty years Cheron has a long and fascinating history. She became known as the “unofficial mayoress of Jeffreys Bay” and has won numerous awards, such as the Eastern Cape’s Woman of Distinction in 2004. She was hailed the Kouga Business Person Of the Year in 2005 and again in 2006. Her Billabong Clothing company was awarded the Khuza award as the “Best Brand Communicator” in the teen market in 2006. Cheron Kraak owned some 16 shops through South Africa and Billabong goods are sold through some 3,000 shops worldwide. In 2007 she handed back the franchise to Billabong Australia.

In 2005 Billabong was awarded the best female clothing label in South Africa as a result of the Generation Next Survey which is conducted by the Sunday Times newspaper.

What is interesting is the way in which Cheron started her empire with nothing. By sheer hard work and determination she built up an awesome clothing empire that generates and co-ordinates the famous Billabong Surfing contests every year at Super Tubes.

“I first came to Jeffreys Bay in 1971 on holiday,” says Cheron Kraak. “We live for surfing. Unless you’ve done it, you can’t know what it’s like out there with just you, the sky and the ocean. Many of our employees are surfers who spend every minute they can in the surf. After all, “she smiles, “That’s why we came to Jeffreys Bay- to surf the best waves in the world!”

What I liked about Cheron was her simple charm, her warm smile and her deep concern for the 400 people that work for her.

Formerly Cheron Habib, she admits to being somewhat of a rebel in her youth. Asked against what? “Oh, against suburban Johannesburg, the tennis club, conforming to society’s norms and all that. I saved up for a trip to India and London and returned to Jeffreys Bay in 1978 and started making board shorts for the surfers on the beach. All I owned was one portable sewing machine. That’s where Country Feeling first started. On the beach.”

Working on a very limited capital, she traded shorts, shirts and other seaside gear with the surfers in return for their help to transform a match boxed size garage into the first Jeffreys Bay surf shop.

So much has been written about this remarkable woman, and the headlines she attracted in local newspapers perhaps sum up her rise to success the best.

“She sews seashorts on the seashore.” Weekend Post 3/1/1981

“Rag Trade girl makes it to riches.” Sunday Times 19/2/1984

Her Country Feeling label grew in stature and in the early 80’s she was offered the licence to manufacture Billabong in South Africa by good friend and Billabong founder, Australian Gordon Merchant.

Twenty-nine years later, Cheron built Country Feeling and Billabong up into a clothing empire with a multi-million rand annual turnover, encapsulating the unique lifestyle that surfing and Jeffreys Bay has to offer. A huge factory overlooking the surf at Kitchen Windows employs hundreds of staff who design, manufacture, market and ship the merchandise to her Billabong stores through South Africa and the rest of the world.

“We have a great policy at work; when the surf pumps, the boys go surfing! We are a surf company, and besides, it’s no use trying to keep them indoors when Supers is 6 to 8 ft! As long as they make up their time, it’s all good.”

BACK TO People of South Africa

TEXT:  R Hift

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Last updated:
3 October 2012 7:51