nspiring women improve the lives of their families and beyond

Visiting the sewing unit at Riversands Incubation Hub is akin to finding oneself in a bustling marketplace. Everyone in the group shows up bright and early each morning and can be found cutting, measuring, sewing and creating goods until well past the time when most people would have called it a day.

Since August was Women’s month, we caught up with the individual ladies who have been a constant at the Hub since Coca-Cola South Africa kick started the project with funding at the end of 2015. One of the key requirements of the seed funding was that the project should continue beyond the period of Coca-Cola’s involvement and the fact that the project continues to flourish certainly ticks that box!

Project leader Lise Kuhle did a sterling job of initially piloting and then rolling out all that was required to get the show on the road. The project was included in Coca-Cola’s global initiative 5by20 to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020. The upcycled billboards that are used to line the bags the ladies produce qualified it for inclusion on the programme.

Fast forward five years and the women are self-sufficient and supporting multiple families. They own their industrial sewing machines and produce bags and other goods for people from Diepsloot and Pretoria to Limpopo and Qwaqwa.

Queen Dakada’s business Afrolace  is producing shopping bags by the score at the moment to take advantage of the fact that most people prefer to take their own bags rather than buy plastic carriers. When the production line is in full swing, Afrolace churns out as many as 10 bags in a single day. Pretoria has proved to be a lucrative market for this micro business.

Kgadi Textile Design was started by Gloria Makote and is now thriving thanks to a contact at Olivedale Hospital who sells the backpacks and handbags to just about everyone who works at the healthcare facility.

Agnes Malepe was known by her late mother as a radio because of her cheery voice. Her business, Epelema Designs is doing well thanks to the variety of bags which Agnes designs and makes. Many women buy one of each design!

When Barbara Moyo from Mahwatshu Designs shows up to start her day, she knows that her neighbours from Diepsloot as well as from Riversands will be eager to buy the storage bags which she produces.

Another business making giant storage bags was started by Menet Legwabe. Her Selogadi Designs (083 729 9250) has found a ready market in the area surrounding Riversands Incubation Hub and customers keep returning for more when they realise how handy it is to store glasses, blankets or clothes in these sturdy, zipped cubes.

Veronica Fana’s business TATMW Designs is well known in the Riversands community because she and her husband support three families. Veronica is extremely motivated and produces travel as well as overnight bags for customers principally in Limpopo. Occasionally she calls on her sister Mashome to help with production to keep up with the orders which stream in from the North of the country.

With so many women producing bags, Ruth Tivani has extended her production to include bed linen and soft furnishings. Her business, Rhulani Designs (076 679 3448), generates sufficient income to support three people in Diepsloot comfortably.

Tsakan Machebele is truly passionate about sewing, which is just as well because her micro business Tsakan Surprise Bags attracts customers from Limpopo, where family members take orders for school bags, backpacks and other custom-designed bags which are transported by taxi to customers.

Maria Mochesane from Maria Designs (073 663 1160) has enlisted the help of her sister-in-law from Qwaqua in the Free State to sell the bags she produces. This sales channel has proved to be successful enough to support four people! Of course Mochesane would be most willing to make bags for local customers as well.

These micro business owners are an inspiration within the Riversands campus and their hard work, creativity and dedication have transformed their lives – and the lives of their extended families.