When Lesego Malatsi started making clothes, he didn’t think beyond being able to support himself. Today, the once unemployed fashion school graduate has a thriving business, a shop in Soweto’s Maponya Mall and a growing market in the UK. He’s also a Richard Branson School of Entrepreneurship graduate and the only South African designer to have showcased his work in the 2011 London Fashion Week’s ‘Fashion’s Finest Renaissance’ event, an experience he describes as “the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.”
Getting off the ground
It’s a story, like so many others, with humble beginnings and starts with a sewing project in the streets of Soweto. “My mother invested my deceased father’s pension payout in my fashion school
education and I was the first person in my family to study beyond school. So when I graduated and couldn’t find a job, I knew I’d exhausted the family’s income and would have to make a plan,” says Malatsi.
With nothing other than ideas for beautiful garments, Malatsi approached a group of women in a Soweto sewing project. “I realised I’d have to use what I had, which was my training and my ideas. They had equipment that I needed so I proposed a barter deal with them. They would let me use their equipment and in return I’d give them professional clothing patterns,” he explains. This still left the problem of purchasing fabric, but Malatsi managed to convince his first client to pay a deposit to cover these costs.
That deposit was Malatsi’s first and only start-up capital. “Once that first garment was made I made a small profit and, as word spread in the community orders slowly started to trickle in, and I could use the money I made to buy more fabric and make more garments,” he explains.
It’s business in its simplest but possibly most elegant form: make a small profit off an initial sale, plough it back into the business and use it to increase production and make more profit.
Defining a unique style
Over time, Malatsi became known in his neighbourhood as the go-to-guy for African fashion for formal occasions. From initially making only bespoke garments, he slowly developed commercial ranges based on his more successful items.
He’s worked hard at developing his own African-inspired style. “I deliberately didn’t reference European fashion magazines. I wanted to create an Afro-centric look that appeals to any race or colour, but that still has an international flavour,” he explains. Initially he was known for his ‘traditional clothing’ but that has evolved and a unique style has emerged over time into ethnic-inspired and finally the Afro-centric style he has today.
Standing out – and serendipity
This signature style is undoubtedly one of his key success factors and it’s what made a particular tourist from Cambridge notice his garments in the window of his Maponya Mall shop in Soweto, in late 2010. What followed was a remarkable series of fortunate events.
“She was an archeology student and when she got back to Cambridge she found she needed to send the garment back for alterations and we got corresponding. She saw snippets of one of my shows on the Internet and wanted to start a business to import my clothes to the UK. She asked if I’d be willing to make a trip there to showcase some garments,” says Malatsi.
It just so happened that at that time the Branson Centre had been helping him raise funds to attend a show in Los Angeles for which Malatsi had developed a range. “That trip got cancelled so here I was with the money, the range and an invitation to travel overseas,” he continues. He showcased the line at the first ever Black Ethnic Minority Week in the UK. Slowly, orders started coming in.
The Cambridge archeology student wrote her thesis on African apparel, using Malatsi’s work as an example of how it had been modernised. “She asked me to showcase my clothes at her thesis presentation before a panel of judges and we won a prize of £1 000,” Malatsi relates. Some philanthropists, who just happened to be in the audience, added a £6 000 donation to the prize money and Malatsi secured retail space, setting up shop in Cambridge’s high street.
Malatsi has big plans for expansion in South Africa and for the development of an exciting accessories line. “People keep asking me things like ‘What socks do I wear with this outfit?’ or ‘Don’t you have something my child can wear?’ and I realised there was a real market for bags, shoes and jewellery – even children’s wear and homewear. I’ll be pushing this hard in the year ahead,” he concludes.
Making the most of opportunities
There can be little doubt that luck played an important role in Malatsi’s story but so too has his ability to take opportunities and make the most of them. From his association with the Branson Centre to the interest shown by a single UK customer in selling his clothes overseas, he’s also managed to establish relationships that have opened doors to new opportunities.
Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses
These teens are proving that you don’t need a driver’s licence – or the ability to vote – to create and execute a successful start-up.
In South Africa youth entrepreneurship is encouraged as the best way to build the economy. Teens are no longer relying on tertiary education to jumpstart their careers, as many high school students become budding entrepreneurs. From make-up to confectionary and tech-centred ventures, youth entrepreneurship is taking the business world by storm.
“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”
And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.
10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets
The future of entrepreneurship has never looked so bright…these young entrepreneurs share their wisdom around building a successful business.
Natural Talent Can Become Your Success
Thabo Khumalo – ToVch
“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” Thabo Khumalo explains. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.” Thabo Khumalo started his company ToVch in 2010 and has since appeared in South African Fashion Week, Soweto Fashion Week and Mpumalanga Fashion Week.
Khumalo has a small but engaged audience, who he communicates directly with. “The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces.”
One of the most challenging aspects of launching his businesses was marketing the brand with limited funds. He used social media and word-of-mouth to market. “On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.” Khumalo built up his company using support from a strong online network, which became his marketing strategy.
For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward
The NGO space isn’t easy. It’s a constant uphill battle to connect scarce resources with the vulnerable. Annelise de Jager has persevered in this space because she’s tapped into her personal purpose and values.
- Player: Annelise de Jager
- Initiative: National Tekkie Tax Day
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: www.tekkietax.co.za
Use your purpose to drive you forward
Connect your purpose with what you do, and you’ll find untapped reserves of perseverance and the discipline needed to achieve your goals.
Purpose before profit is not a new concept in business. In fact, it underlines the motivations behind some of the most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also not reserved for social enterprises alone.
However, it is in the social entrepreneurship and charitable spaces that living one’s purpose first found a foothold, mostly because without a strong purpose, the work would just be too hard, and many would give up.
Annelise de Jager, founder of National Tekkie Tax Day, unpacks how she’s used living her purpose to drive her forward, even when she’s faced almost insurmountable challenges and disappointments.
Make ‘living a life that matters’ intrinsic to everything you do.
“I was lucky in that I didn’t ever need to sit down and say, ‘I want my life to matter, so I need to do x, y, z’,” says Annelise. “It was intrinsic for me. However, in the past five years I’ve become acutely aware of it, and I’ve seen how important the ability to look beyond oneself is when you’re facing disappointment and challenges.
“It helps you look beyond the now, find a solution and keep pushing on, because there is a bigger goal at stake. The biggest revelation for me has been that anyone can figure this out and use it as a tool to achieve their dreams and purpose — you just need to trigger your intrinsic motivators.
“Figure out what’s really important to you, and then align this with what you’re doing, in both your business and personal journeys. Robin Bank’s Mind Power and Shaping your Destiny courses are a great place to start.”
Don’t be afraid to ask what’s next
Critical to Annelise’s journey has been the realisation that when goals are met, we need to ask ourselves: What’s next? “Too many people achieve their goals and then feel adrift. You should meet your goals. Your ultimate vision should change. That’s growth, and it’s critical if you want to keep moving forward.
“Our experiences inform our knowledge base and world views, and so as you live and run your business, that view should be changing, bringing with it new challenges and perceptions. Don’t be scared of it; embrace it.”
Annelise went to Potchefstroom University to study social work where she joined the university’s musical revue group, the Alabama Student Company. “Alabama was given the opportunity to tour Taiwan, but I was about to graduate. Travel is high on my personal values list, so I started a second degree in communications to stay in university — and — in Alabama.”
New experiences can be the source of great ideas and strength
Studying communications opened Annelise to a new discipline that she loved. “Marketing and communications are so filled with energy — an energy social work didn’t possess. I loved both, and I wanted to find a way to meld them together. This would ultimately shape my business, The Marketing Team, after I’d been a social worker for a few years. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans based on new experiences; they can be the source of our greatest ideas and strengths.”
No experience is ever wasted
“We spend too much time trying to plan exactly what we should be doing, where and when, instead of following our hearts and instincts,” says Annelise. “No experience is ever wasted. Once I discovered my love for communications, I questioned whether I’d wasted four years studying social work. I hadn’t.
“Both disciplines became the bedrock of how I would assist the charitable space in South Africa. Experiences open our eyes, our hearts, and our understanding. They give us empathy and patience. They allow us to view things from other perspectives. If you want to really make a difference in other peoples’ lives, these traits are invaluable.”
Be open to finding answers in unexpected places
“By 2004 I felt rudderless,” says Annelise. “I’d been running my own business, handling communications and marketing for NGOs, developing campaigns and even assisting NGOs to run more as businesses than under-funded organisations, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
“Part of the problem was that you can only give people the tools to work with, you can’t make them use them. Another problem was under-funding. Corporates spend billions each year on CSI projects but they don’t like to fund salaries and basic operational expenses.
“It’s frustrating because volunteers can’t do what needs to be done — most households need two breadwinners, which limits the availability of volunteers to assist.
“I was looking for a way to add more value. Should I start my own NGO? Where could I make the biggest impact? I’d been offered an excellent coaching position, which would allow me to walk away from the problems this sector deals with daily. It was tempting, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
“At that time I attended the Global Day of Prayer in Argentina on behalf of a client. It was at that conference that I had an almost supernatural experience. I left knowing exactly what my purpose was.
“How these realisations come to you is less important than the fact that you’re open to them. Deep down I knew what I wanted and needed — I just needed the courage and fortitude to follow my path. My experience in Argentina gave that to me because I allowed it to.”
Always find the strength to persevere.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. In the NGO space, this is particularly true. “I developed the idea for National Tekkie Tax Day because NGOs constantly asked me to help them develop funding campaigns. I developed this fundraising model when I launched Casual Day and ran the project successfully for 18 years.
“But I also believe the NGO space can benefit from a more unified mindset to overcome donor confusion and fatigue. This is my new focus, but it’s difficult to get organisations to shift their mindsets. National Tekkie Tax Day is a step in this direction.
“It encompasses 12 national NGOs and 1 000 regional organisations across five categories — but there’s one product and one national marketing drive. Donors can choose a category to support.
“I’ve needed to persevere to help NGOs see the benefits in working collaboratively, and corporates to see the benefits of supporting the operational costs of NGOs.
“I don’t have a high profile job at a top company. People don’t call you back in my world. And yet you need to keep pushing forward against incredible headwinds.
“I wake up each morning and repeat the mantra that my success helps everybody; my failure helps nobody. There won’t always be easy wins, but with the right purpose you can persevere. You can make a difference.”
Support National Tekkie Tax Day on 26 May 2017
12 national charities | 1 000 local charities | 5 sectors to support
Animals, Bring Hope, Children, Disability, Education
Available at Toys R Us, Clicks and Babies R Us or online at www.tekkietax.co.za
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