We had the privilege of having a chat with female entrepreneur Malerato Sekha owner of Shwenkara Creations in Diepkloof Soweto. A creative, lover of all things African this is what she had to say about her journey thus far and thoughts on entrepreneurship.
Malerato Sekha, owner of Shwenkara Creations and her team
1. Tell me about your business, what are you doing exactly?
Shwenkara Creations is fashion accessories business. We make button neck pieces and work with craft people who use various materials to create accessories. The concept behind Shwenkara Creations is to promote all that is African. We also infuse modern pieces with an Afro-centric feel. Shwenkara is derived from Shweshe (our local South African fabric) and Ankara (Western African fabric). We have such a rich tapestry in Africa that it should be celebrated.
2. How long have you been doing it?
I have been doing this for the past 4 years. I took a leap of faith in 2012 having received a neck piece from Ghana as a gift. Admiring the complex beauty within the neck piece I got in touch with the lady who had created it to teach me the craft, I began to experiment with buttons.
3. When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I was still working in corporate I was involved in selling products like Honey accessories, Avon and other brands. I was really good at it though felt I could make far more if I ventured on my own. I then left my corporate job in 2012 and realised the time was right to build something for myself.
4. What resources (not just financial) did you have when you started the venture? Did you feel prepared to start the venture at the time you started it?
When I started I had just received my package from work so I had some financial resources to spare. I attended a trade show at which I used about R 4000 worth of my savings to purchase stock to resell. That coupled with my creative flair got the ball rolling.
5. What goals did you have when you started the business? Have you reached them? How have you adjusted them?
My vision has always been about fusing European accessories with an African feel. I do feel however that some progress is being made now with Africans beginning to truly embrace their fashion culture.
I knew having a physical shop would be expensive so instead my goal was to have an online shop. I achieved this under conversation pieces which was the name of my brand then. I however had to close shop because sales were slow, people still wanted to feel and see the accessories so buying online for them was not attractive for the type of product I was offering as a result maintaining the site became too expensive. My goal now is to open a physical shop here in Soweto. Soweto is where I work, Soweto is where my market is.
6. Where do you see your business in 5 years from now?
I see myself having a very successful shop. My ultimate goal however is to be a wholesaler, assisting the crafters to get their products out to the public and similarly assisting small businesses like me right now to get a good start.
7. What are the disadvantages and advantages of being a woman in business in South Africa?
Personal experience is that there are certain things that women are expected to do to get ahead, finding themselves in compromising situations. This makes the whole hustle for women that much harder. On the positive end though, there is a lot of talk regarding government initiatives that benefit women. I personally haven’t been on the receiving end of these initiatives however I’ve heard that other industries such as construction are benefiting.
8. What challenges have you personally faced that are specifically related to operating a township business?
People won’t come to you, you have to go to them.
9. What would you like to say to the consumer who lives in or around a township but prefers to consume from businesses outside of the township?
Start exploring your surroundings. There is so much to get where you are, it won’t cost you more to look closer. The things you want are right at your doorstep. Let’s start supporting local, #buytownship. If we really want to make our townships better, to grow economically, to be on the same level as those places that we go to then we must start at home.
As township entrepreneurs we also really need to up the standard on quality to ensure that people are able to support us repeatedly. Serve your township customers the same way you would serve those in the suburbs.
10. What do you think it will take to get South Africans to start spending their money in the township?
Change of mentality. We must take example from people from Somalia and Indian community. They support one another. A rand really gets around in these communities. Whatever you need, first look for it within your community before going outside to source it, use your money to make a difference within your community.
11. What advise do you have for any girl or woman out there who would like to become and entrepreneur?
Go for it. Don’t sit on your ideas simply because you are worried about resources. Start somewhere, anywhere. Do your part, create employment and contribute to reducing the high unemployment that our country is currently facing. Take a chance.