Women rule the day

2014-09-22 00:00

WOMEN dominated at Durban’s Business Fair yesterday.

In an event featuring 500 exhibitors, female small business owners and sales agents appeared to outnumber their male counterparts by a rate of at least three to one.

Despite also working for a major accounting firm, Mandy du Plessis loved shopping for fancy dress costumes at her local Glenwood store so much that she bought the business this year.

Surrounded by stalls selling hazardous waste removal and insurance, her Carnival & Backstage exhibit informed patrons that “Life is better in a tutu”.

The mother of two says her fledgling business was growing on the back of a “major trend” among Durbanites to don wild and wacky costumes for events ranging from zombie runs to children’s parties and the annual madcap Sissy Hankshaw’s Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster Tour.

Du Plessis now employs four seamstresses to design outfits she can’t source elsewhere.

Sharing space with her was Roberta Mbulu, who risked sacrificing her IT career to start a business training women to get the most from their make-up.

“It’s hard to convince women they can improve, but I felt I had to follow my dream,” she said.

But while women made a splash at the Durban Exhibition Centre venue, Samala Morgan, an area liaison for the Durban Chamber of Commerce, said visitor numbers were “very disappointing” this weekend.

“We are not seeing the manufacturing we’ve seen here before; the innovative ideas and the gadgets,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Fair insisted numbers had not dropped, and that 9 000 had visited in two days.

The show was dominated by lifestyle businesses — especially furniture design, beauty products and fashion accessories — with few high tech start-ups offering apps or devices.

But Morgan added, “Women are definitely in the majority. I do think women are more enterprising in KZN than in other provinces.”

Meanwhile, a cluster of customers at the stall behind Du Plessis’s revealed that another female co-owner’s gamble was paying off too.

Having left her teaching career in 2005, Natasha Lee, from Westville, predicted that parents would not be satisfied showing off their family pictures on smartphones and laptops — even though these devices were booming.

Instead, Lee started a photo book business, allowing parents to design their own albums online, and then receive handmade, hardcover booklets featuring high resolution images.

Her marketing agent, Taryn Murdey, said the business was growing by 20% a year, and added, “Young kids want to turn the pages, grandparents want the keepsake. Also, laptops and phones get stolen, and we are finding people want their family histories in bound books as well.”

One of the most important businesses for Durban’s economy — a company selling welding training — saw just a trickle of interest.

But 17-year-old Shevin Ramauthar — a Grade 12 pupil from Isipingo — was glad to sign up for the artisan’s course, knowing his new skills will command a high price in the future.

“There is a big lack of specialist welders in South Africa, so I am surprised there is so little interest from my friends,” said ­Ramauthar. “My friends said, ‘Why don’t you make a career getting tenders? Welding is hard work’. But even if I do start my own business and it fails, at least I will have this [trade] to fall back on.”

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