Alex women sew their way to agile business success

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Hluvuko Designs took advantage of the outbreak of Covid-19 to sew cloth facemasks. Photo: Supplied

ALEX – Employment for young Alex women promotes sustainable economic development for the impoverished township.

“Life is fast in Alex, and to survive you need to have a plan.”

These are the words of entrepreneur Ponani Shikweni who has an infectious energy and indefatigable drive to equip other young women in Alexandra to reach financial independence. Shikweni came to Alex in 2004 looking for opportunity. What she found was a big need for employment for women and the youth.

“Having no income and no job can lead people to some desperate, dangerous actions, and so when we offer young women work opportunities, we are also helping young people to avoid getting involved with drugs and crime,” said Shikweni, director of Hluvuko Designs.

While the Covid-19 pandemic threatened many small businesses, Shikweni seized an opportunity for growth. “These young women were unemployed and had very few opportunities until I recruited them to join our cooperative and taught them how to sew to earn a living. Then when Covid-19 arrived, suddenly there was a huge demand for cloth face masks and, fortunately, we were ready to start producing to help fill this gap.”

According to Shikweni, the hluvuko (which means development) was chosen as the name for her company because it encapsulates their purpose of developing individuals as well as contributing to the prosperity of their community.

“For many of the women working for Hluvuko Designs, this has been the first time they have earned an income.”

Hluvuko has so far created opportunities for 32 Alex women, 19 of the youth, and with the experience, they have gained, they look forward to growing even more. “Working to put food on the table and support a family gives a young person more confidence, and it’s that kind of confidence that inspired me to create more opportunities for township women.”

Before Hluvuko Designs was formally established, Shikweni and six other women had started sewing to order. Their products were being sold through an intermediary and the women received only a fraction of the profits.

“Life is fast in Alex, and to survive you need to have a plan.”

These are the words of entrepreneur Ponani Shikweni who has an infectious energy and indefatigable drive to equip other young women in Alexandra to reach financial independence. Shikweni came to Alex in 2004 looking for opportunity. What she found was a big need for employment for women and the youth.

“Having no income and no job can lead people to some desperate, dangerous actions, and so when we offer young women work opportunities, we are also helping young people to avoid getting involved with drugs and crime,” said Shikweni, director of Hluvuko Designs.

While the Covid-19 pandemic threatened many small businesses, Shikweni seized an opportunity for growth. “These young women were unemployed and had very few opportunities until I recruited them to join our cooperative and taught them how to sew to earn a living. Then when Covid-19 arrived, suddenly there was a huge demand for cloth facemasks and, fortunately, we were ready to start producing to help fill this gap.”

According to Shikweni, the hluvuko (which means development) was chosen as the name for her company because it encapsulates their purpose of developing individuals as well as contributing to the prosperity of their community.

“For many of the women working for Hluvuko Designs, this has been the first time they have earned an income.”

Hluvuko has so far created opportunities for 32 Alex women, 19 of the youth, and with the experience, they have gained, they look forward to growing even more. “Working to put food on the table and support a family gives a young person more confidence, and it’s that kind of confidence that inspired me to create more opportunities for township women.”

Before Hluvuko Designs was formally established, Shikweni and six other women had started sewing to order. Their products were being sold through an intermediary and the women received only a fraction of the profits.

In 2015, however, Netcare recognised the potential of the women’s entrepreneurial model as a promising enterprise development project, and assisted them to formally register the business. Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba, Netcare’s director of transformation, recalled how the women’s sewing cooperative stood out even when it was operating informally.

“Ponani and the Hluvuko Designs ladies impressed us from the start,” Ndzwayiba said.

“The simplicity of the model, its potential to directly benefit youth, women and their households, and, in particular, how their operations could be scaled up to meet demand, demonstrated to us that they would be a good prospect as an enterprise and supplier development partner.”

In addition to helping the women to register the business, Netcare commissioned the team to make items such as conference bags, pillowcases and kangaroo care wraps. Netcare then purchased the wraps, made from repurposed Netcare linen, to insert into baby gift bags for newborn mothers. “With the outbreak of Covid-19, Netcare asked us to make 10 000 cloth facemasks for their staff members and we got another big order for 20 000 facemasks from the Youth Employment Service (Yes) initiative and were handed out for free to people shopping at Alex Mall,” Shikweni said.

“Last year, Netcare also arranged training for us on how to run a factory effectively, which has helped us to get more young women working quickly to keep up with demand. It has been going very well with our business, we are getting more orders. “We have bought more big sewing machines and we recently bought our own vehicle, which is already making a big difference to our business.”

As part of its partnership with the Yes initiative, Netcare will be establishing an entrepreneurial hub at Alex Mall to promote job creation by supporting grassroots entrepreneurs and nurturing small businesses in the community. Ndzwayiba said site plans have been approved by the City of Johannesburg but construction was unfortunately halted due to lockdown.

Source: https://alexnews.co.za/175812/women-sew-their-way-to-success/