Carla Frankel, a South African luxury sleepwear brand builder — Lionesses of Africa

Lioness Weekender spoke to Carla Frankel about her vision for her brand, her entrepreneurial journey so far, and her focus on fine craftsmanship to create luxury products and experiences.

What does your company do?

Top Drawer Collection is a ready-to-wear brand with a heritage in personalised sleepwear. Born out of the desire to create a celebratory experience of self-love and appreciation for the finer moments in life- we focus on the coming together of luxury design, fine craftsmanship and bespoke gifting. Ethically made and finely-finished in South Africa, we set out to create a brand that allowed a woman to be the purest version of herself – elegant, relaxed, and confident. With a strong social media following, we are the sole distributors of our product over our e-commerce website

What inspired you to start your company?

Top Drawer Collection was born out of the desire to create a celebratory experience of self- love. During my second year of university, during a health scare that was comforted by matching pyjamas bought by my mom for her and I, I had my “uh-huh” moment. At the time, there wasn’t anyone in the country doing personalized sleepwear that focused on a bespoke gifting experience. I had found my gap in the market based on a desire I wanted to fulfill through what I had personally experienced. Top Drawer Collection was built through a deep desire to create a core experience rooted in self-love, backed with incredibly high-quality, locally made products, that offered an international quality, sensory gifting experience like no other. I had no fashion experience, but a really firm idea of the product and experience I wanted to create, so I dived right into the ocean and learnt how to swim when I got there. I learnt from every mistake and both my product and business skills got better with time. Often entrepreneur’s wait for their product to be perfect before launching. If I look back at the first draft of the product it was great, but it has grown so much since then. In hindsight, I got into the market at the right time and perfected the details later.

Why should anyone use your service or product?

When Top Drawer Collection launched, we were the first in South Africa to offer luxury personalized sleepwear. We also offered a gifting service that was only being offered by the likes of Jo Malone. When we sent our first orders out, we had gotten feedback from clients comparing our packaging experience to internationally renowned companies such as Net-a-Porter. The brand became an Instagram sensation and chosen brand of the elite within our first 3 months, with celebrity’s such as Sarah Langa, Kefilwe Mabote and Connie Fergurson ordering from our little business. We believe that it’s accelerated success and “instagrammabilitly” was due to the fact that we based our product off creating an incredible experience for our clients, one that they wanted to share with their social following. From the moment you receive our package- the scent of roses that fills the room as you untie the silky ribbon enclosure, to the delicate embroidery that personalizes the set for each unique individual, the short intro card introducing you to the skilled seamstress who made your sleepwear set, to the feeling of the ultra-high quality garment that slips over your skin- we are separated from our competitors through our love affair with “attention to detail”. Three and a half years later, fuelled by the pandemic, many other businesses have joined the sleep and loungewear phenomenon and like many other businesses, we could no longer rely on only a great product to lead the market.

However, during that time and until today, we have retained market loyalty, and we truly believe that it’s not only because of our unwavering quality and experience – but more so that our client’s really feel the story behind Top Drawer Collection. The story is more than only fashion and beauty, it is about a deeper experience of comfort and vulnerability that I craved myself and wanted to create for the world. They choose us to create memories with – from weddings, birth’s, birthday slumber parties, to even one’s last moments in hospice. Top Drawer Collection is not just high-end sleepwear, it is a story and that is the difference.

Tell us a little about your team

The Top Drawer Collection team is a close knit team of eight. 95% female run, our team is made up of skilled ladies from our local community. I’m super passionate about building a business that helps people grow, and the Top Drawer Collection team is a team of people who are all really passionate about great service and large scale impact. Our seamstresses are seasoned veterans in their field, understanding the importance of the “finer details” and consistent quality, and our management team is a team of young women who have a common goal of creating real impact in the world. We are a part of a movement called fashion revolution which is a platform that shines a light on the skilled hands behind your garment, and the ethical and fruitful working conditions that allows them to flourish.

Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And do you come from an entrepreneurial background?

From a little girl I knew wholeheartedly that I wanted to create something of my own. It’s safe to say that many business ideas came and went – the first one being my card making business that I started when I was 10 years old. My parents didn’t believe in pocket money, they believed in us working in exchange for money. I figured, selling cards to most of my family who felt obliged to support a bidding 10 year old would earn me more than washing my parents’ car for pocket money. This entrepreneurial feeling was with me in every decision I made growing up, and that’s why when I finished high school I chose to complete a bachelor of commerce degree specializing in finance. I figured that even though I didn’t know what business I wanted to start at the time, I did want the skills of managing the back end of a business. Because of the “entrepreneurial nag” that was with me in my early life, I knew that the moment that “THE GAP” crossed my path, I would immediately recognize it and take the bull by the horns. Having no experience in fashion and no real experience of running a business, I knew my gap had come and I was confident in the experience I wanted to create. So, I worked very hard to make that outcome happen. For as long as I can remember, all close family members of mine were business people of some sort, owning businesses from successful companies, to small mom & pop shops. Some successful and some failing, but mostly all started with courage and their take on a solution to a gap in the market. Growing up in this environment, I was always taught that firstly you can make an impact in this world if you can touch peoples’ hearts’ or peoples’ needs’, and secondly, nothing in this world will come to you without hard work.

What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?

We are only in the beginning of our business journey with so much more room to grow. We have overcome the first known hurdle of a business which is the 3 year mark. Our next goal is to take Top Drawer Collection retail concept abroad, with the goal of wanting to put African manufacturing and fashion on the map. Right now, we are continuing to grow Top Drawer Collection aggressively with our first local retail experience currently in the works. In our first 3 years of business we have focused on becoming really well known for our core product, which is personalized sleepwear, and now that we have our clients’ loyalty and trust, we have so many more products in the works. This is something I always advise entrepreneurs, focus on doing something really well, become known in the industry for doing it really well and then expand. Don’t grow too quickly – patience is such an important part of growing a business.

What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?

I love creating really great products and building a really strong brand identity, one that is a step above what is available in the market. There really is quite a thrill in creating something from nothing. On a broader scale, I’m super passionate about building a business that helps people grow. On a large enough scale, that’s how you make your mark in the world – impacting and empowering one person at a time.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?

  1. Start before you’re ready.

  2. Embrace your feminine edge in business and see it as a strength. There is power in your softness.

  3. Be patient – social media has created a culture of instant gratification, and the truth is that in business, nothing is built over night. It takes patience and resilience to build a strong foundation that will stand the test of time.

Find out more about Carla’s entrepreneurial journey and the Top Drawer Collection, email Carla: or visit the company website and social media pages:


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