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Sun Goddess: Thando & Vanya Mangaliso

An entrepreneurial couple look to their roots for inspiration when creating Afro-Couture

Juliet Pitman

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Thando & Vanya Mangaliso of Sun Goddess

A hive of frenetic activity greets you as you enter the Sun Godd’ess offices. There’s tangible energy here, and when you meet the dynamic husband-and-wife team of Thando and Vanya Mangaliso who started it all, it’s not hard to see where it comes from.

They began selling skirts out of the boot of their VW Beetle in 2000. Today they own a revolutionary fashion brand with four retail outlets, and have participated in a string of fashion shows in places as far-flung as Washington, Stockholm and Singapore.

With such a record of success it’s interesting to learn that, although clothing is something that the pair has always been interested in, neither of them has any training in the fashion industry. This presented its own challenges and they had to learn the industry as they went along.

“You can imagine what it’s like being in this industry and not knowing where to find a zip or a bead,” explains Thando. “We went into it all a bit like children, and while we did research the industry, we didn’t go into too much depth. That turned out to be a good thing because there was a lot of negativity around at the time and we might have been put off by it.”

Naiveté was balanced by solid entrepreneurial skills and a background in business, as well as a structured business plan. The pair attributes their success in part to their uniquely ethnic African designs. They highlight a trend in the industry, where countries are returning to their traditional styles and ways of designing clothes, instead of just trying to emulate the trends of France and Italy.

“It was very encouraging for us to see these signs. We noticed that the more ethnic we were, the stronger the response was,” they say, adding: “We’ve stuck to a distinctive style.”

Family businesses are notorious for disharmony, but that’s certainly not the case in this partnership. While Thando focuses on the retail side, dealing with centre management, staff and finances, Vanya oversees design and the studio.

It’s a formula that has worked since the business’s inception, and they’ve stuck to it. However, the business success inevitably brought with it growing pains. The Mangalisos had previously done everything themselves, but it soon became apparent that this would no longer be possible.

It became necessary to put structures in place to support a larger operation. Instead of taking all phone calls themselves, they now have two people manning reception. Two months ago they hired a bookkeeper. Whereas Thando used to run the single store on his own, he now employs staff to manage the four outlets across the country.

The business has gone from having one designer and one seamstress to having six designers and 100 seamstresses. However necessary these changes are, relinquishing control is not always easy. Thando remembers how unnerving it was the first time someone else counted stock. “I had to leave the shop to let them get on with their job,” he says.

Getting it right requires balance. Thando still keeps his finger on the pulse of all his retail outlets, making sure he’s intimately involved. He understands that the retail outlets are the heart of the business. “If we don’t sell the clothes, it’s all over,” he says.

The business’s sales strategy has a human focus. While talent and knowledge in their salespeople is a given, the team look for people who are ‘personalities’. “A lot of our clients are repeat business, so it’s crucial that our salespeople build personal relationships with them,” Thando says. He also tries to instil a positive mental approach in his sales staff.

“They need to encourage shoppers not to be afraid to try garments on, not to be intimidated,” he says. One of the major challenges Sun Godd’ess faced was pricing. “We started in a Rosebank boutique and for the first 18 months or so, were charging more than people were willing to pay.

We had to work really hard on changing their mindsets,” says Thando. Prices have increased as the brand has gained popularity, but he points out that it’s only because more luxurious fabrics and intricate designs are being used.

“People are paying for what they’re getting, as they have always done with our clothes. In the past garments might have been cheaper, but we weren’t using silks and Swarovski crystals then,” he adds. The buying public has grown with the business, learning the value of the garments, and is now willing to pay for them. The clothing sells. It’s the surest measure of success in retail.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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