“I just want to see them earn a living” – Alexandra woman who teaches women in her community how to sew

Ponina Shikweni taught herself to crochet after she lost her job in construction and now employs 35 people.
Ponina Shikweni taught herself to crochet after she lost her job in construction and now employs 35 people.
Supplied to DRUM
  • Ponina Shikweni taught herself to crochet after she lost her job in construction.
  • She opened a business that now employs 35 people.
  • Since lockdown she’s been making masks for hospital and mall staff.

When she lost her job a few years ago, she knew she couldn’t sit idle and do nothing.After all, she lived in an area filled with hustle, Alexandra in Johannesburg.

That’s why Ponina Shikweni (32) decided to teach herself to sew. Six years later, she’s now the proud owner of her own company, Hluvuko Designs, which has 35 employees.

“I used to work for a construction company in 2012 and my contract ended,” she says.

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“In 2013 I volunteered as a caregiver at an NGO for vulnerable children, while at the same time I was busy crocheting.”

In 2014, she decided to solely focus on crocheting and sewing to sustain herself.

“I started by making small blankets that I used to sell at the market.”

She sold her handmade products at various train stations.

And it was not easy, as someday she would make a profit, and other days nothing.

“You end up selling your stuff with a low price, just so that someone buys it and that means making a loss.”

She wasn’t making a lot of money, but it was enough to keep her going.

While she was working, she would often see other women in the area sitting around in groups and wasting the day away. It wasn’t because they wanted to, but because they had no jobs, she says.

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She invited them to join her in her crochet and sewing endeavour.

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

“I started teaching women in my area how to sew and crochet, just so they could earn a living. I started with 10 ladies, then in 2017 I decided to add young people as well who were unemployed.”

And now she has 35 people who work for her.

Getting registered

Ponina and her staff used to advertise their products to different cooperate companies.

Some would buy but she was often told they couldn’t go into business with her as she wasn’t officially registered.

“I used to go door-to-door marketing for big corporate companies. Showing them my work and most companies used to buy blankets for Mandela Day,” she says.

It wasn’t until 2015 when she got a big break.

“I was busy selling my stuff at the market as usual when a lady who worked for Netcare bought a throw and a shopping bag from me,” she says.

“When she went to work, her colleagues started asking her where she bought these things, and she told them from a lady at the market.”

She had given her a business card and days later after the purchase from the Netcare staff member, she got a call from Netcare.

“They scheduled an appointment with me, and later came to my house to see my work.”

She began making different things for Netcare, from toy giraffes to blankets.

Ponina also shared the struggles she faced when it came to getting major clients as she wasn’t a registered business.

“I told them each time I go to different companies, they told me they can’t give me a lot of work or make me their usual supplier because I am not a registered business,” she says.

And that is when Netcare came to her rescue. They helped her register her company and they also registered her as one of their vendors.

“Netcare really helped me a lot when they helped me register my business,” she explains. “Because of them, I am now able to work with other big companies.”

Learning the ropes

In 2019 she went for training on how to manage her business.

“I went for a two-week training in that factory,” she says.

“I was taught what I needed to run a successful business and I really learnt a lot of things there.”

After the course, Ponina bought new and correct machines for her employees to be able to work efficiently.

Now Netcare has become Hluvuko Design’s main client and when the country went under lockdown, they asked her to make masks for their staff members.

It didn’t stop there, Hluvuko Design has made masks for Alexandra Mall staff and has been getting orders from as far as Limpopo.

“And we have been getting a lot of orders from different companies. But our main client is Netcare.”

Hluvuko Design has been very busy during lockdown and with the profit they made, they were able to buy new machines.

“We were even able to buy our own transport so we can be able to deliver to our clients that are around Johannesburg,” says Ponina.

Even though Ponina’s business has been operating in her yard, she tells Drum excitedly that they will be moving.

“I have created a shelter inside my yard, that is where we are currently working. But very soon we will be moving into our own business space.”

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