Growing up in Nelspruit, my mom couldn’t afford to buy us new school uniforms when we needed them. After finishing school and working for a local radio station, I realised I could produce school uniforms for the community at more reasonable prices so I decided to start my own manufacturing company. I go to schools, take orders from parents and deliver directly to them.
While school uniforms are an important part of the business, our initial focus has changed because of a number of social influences and needs. I realised that uniform sales are at their peak at the beginning and the end of the school year. They can’t provide ongoing sales. That’s when I decided to expand our offering and started looking at making office wear. I recruited a qualified fashion designer and we started designing a range of other clothes.
What sets us apart from the competition is that we don’t copy any designs. Our designs are inspired by what is around us, by changes in the climate and by the mood. When a client orders from us, we speak to them to find out their needs and desires, and base our designs on their requirements.
One of our biggest challenges was trying to get our product out there without access to proper platforms. It’s hard to participate in fashion shows because the organisers want known designers. It’s also hard to get your product into retail stores (plus they want their cut which means you might not make much profit).
Being in business for yourself means you have to be your own advertiser, love what you’re doing and believe in it. You also need to be able to take risks. Startups need rental money and investment. Sometimes you can’t get funding so you have to risk your own money. You really need to have faith to be able to take that risk.
In 2016, I discovered that ENGEN Pitch & Polish was coming to Nelspruit so I registered online. The programme was very informative especially when it comes to the reality of business. When I started my business, I was just doing things hand to mouth but the programme taught us about how to build a sustainable business, how to make money and how to spend it. The financial education we received was a huge help. Most businesses that don’t last a year don’t bank properly and don’t use their money wisely.
I would definitely recommend ENGEN Pitch & Polish to other aspiring entrepreneurs because it is so motivational and business driven. The organisers think big and they think out of the box. The time we spent at Raizcorp’s head office in Johannesburg was a motivation all on its own. I would really like to thank Engen Petroleum and Nedbank for the opportunity.
Since participating in ENGEN Pitch & Polish, Lechero has been doing very well. We’ve bought a car and another five machines. We’re also hiring four more people because we want to expand and sell our clothes in provinces other than Mpumalanga.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to get on to the internet – not just social media – to check out opportunities outside their comfort zones, outside their province and even outside the country. Also, you should share your business knowledge with others. You don’t have to be a multimillion business to mentor and help others.