Against the odds: Cashing in on fashion

2012-06-16 10:23

Mthunzi Nkosi left a secure job as an ATM support technician at a bank to follow his dream.

Over the past six years, the 30-year-old entrepreneur from Orange Farm assembled a team of young people to start a clothing label called Iintsizwa Ziphelele.

Nkosi and his three partners, all in their late twenties, identified a gap in the market for an original, locally-produced clothing brand that was all about arts, graphic design, music and entertainment.

“For us, clothing goes beyond just being an expression of one’s style or attitude. It’s also an expression of one’s ideals,” said Nkosi.

But a good business needs more than a great idea – which they found to their detriment when the business was forced to close in 2007.

“Due to the dynamics that have seen the death of many small businesses in South Africa, we were forced to shut down and only re-emerged in 2010. Since then we have been running the business from our own pockets, which has been very difficult,” he said.

“Fortunately, two of my business partners and I were employed and we managed to sustain the business. In March this year we received some help from the National Youth Development Agency for raw materials to produce our latest range of clothing.

“Statistics show that most small businesses die in the first five years.”

The thought of having to shut up shop again gives Nkosi sleepless nights.

“I consistently worry about ensuring that we deliver quality products. I don’t want people to buy our clothes because they are only trying to support a young black business, but because they identify with the brand and are happy with the value they get.”

Young people, he says, don’t receive the support they need from government and private institutions established to help small businesses.

“They come across red tape. Instead of helping them . . . they are turned away and told to come back when they have sorted this out,” he says.

“I think there should be support services other than just the money being given.”

He is confident that his business model will ensure the company’s future.

“We sell sweaters, hoodies, T-shirts and caps. We add value through screen printing and embroidery of creative images onto the clothing,” he says.

“We also do graphic designing, corporate identity brochures and web designing. This part of our business helps to finance the daily operations.”

His advice to other young entrepreneurs is to have a vision, be prepared for hard times and not to expect quick profits.

Iintsizwa Ziphelele products are sold in Johannesburg at Ozlo SA at Arts on Main and will soon hit other retail stores. 

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