No industry is easy to break into, but that is especially true for clothes manufacturing. But Zershi Gonzalves, a 52-year-old mother of two from Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal, decided to take a leap of faith and followed her passion. Her decision to establish a clothing manufacturing business and to work alongside her husband, Bernard Gonzalves, is paying off handsomely. “My husband and I started our business, Juan’re Clothing Manufacturers, in 2000 and our children, Juanre and Chanaye, joined us between 2014 and 2016,” Zershi says. The company employs 250 people.
As the eldest of four siblings, Zershi spent most of her childhood surrounded by family. “Our lives were centralised around making the most of what we had. We found joy in simplicity, appreciating the little things in life, and sometimes being a little mischievous,” she says.
Growing up, there were many role models to admire in Zershi’s life, but her mom inspired her daily. “Her zest and zeal to persevere was unmatched. We never had much growing up, but she never allowed it to affect us,” she says. Zershi didn’t exactly know what she wanted to become when she got older. “Looking back, it’s hard to peg my aspirations on one particular thing. The only arsenal I held onto was an inherent desire to succeed at any opportunity that came my way. Fortunately, as the years progressed and I stepped into the textile world, a passion arose within me that I hadn’t discovered in my youth,” she adds.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
Zershi worked several jobs before she discovered her zeal for the textile and clothing industry. “My first job was at a tile shop. There, I learnt the invaluable lesson of responsibility. My tasks were few, but I took them very seriously and treated the business as though it was my own. That experience planted the seed of responsibility and accountability within me – something that I still value deeply today,” she explains. Her last corporate job was working at Absa before she decided to explore the business world.
QUALITY ON DEMAND
A major retail store is one of their biggest clients. That’s no easy feat, especially for a small business. “We started our company as a CMT (cut, make and trim) manufacturer and had been indirectly manufacturing products for a number of major chain stores. My husband approached the company and with our eagerness to excel, ability to produce quality products, and on-time deliveries, we managed to forge a strong and successful relationship with them. We haven’t looked back since,” Zershi says.
She explains that Juan’re Clothing Manufacturers is rooted on the premise of producing quality clothing on demand. “From manufacturing a singular garment, to the general maintenance of each individual’s workstation, our standards are very high. We are a God-fearing family and business. We start each morning with prayer and have done so for the last 19 years. In a nutshell, this business has been a blessing in more ways than one and all the glory goes to Jesus,” she says.
She adds that Juan’re Clothing Manufacturers is centred around their passion for manufacturing and has grown significantly over the last few years. However, she admits that the initial stages of establishing their business were difficult. “We faced many challenges ranging from meeting financial needs to stabilising our workforce and ensuring that our customers’ needs were met. We firmly believe in fair trade and ensuring each business we partner with ultimately makes a profit. We value relationships, so in times of need, our supply chain and customers, assisted us,” she says. Although it was hard at first, they eventually managed to overcome their challenges.
“Our history of delivering quality goods on demand laid a strong foundation for our company and propelled our relationship with our biggest client. We were fortunate to have their support in facilitating our growth and being part of their economic development programme. This created room for optimal and increased capacity growth,” she says. “We’re currently expanding our business with our focus on increasing our production capacity, to allow room for more offshore business to become local. We are also developing an export model for the business and look to sustaining and developing a large range of clothes, and to hold a stronger manufacturing footprint as a South African garment manufacturer.”
GETTING A BOOST FROM ABSA
Absa was instrumental in making Zershi’s business a success by offering her a loan. “I’m a former employee of Absa and our accounts were opened since the inception of our business 19 years ago. Absa understood our vision and assisted in making it a reality. Our relationship with them is like a partnership. Key management figures made it their business to understand how our business operates. We are currently on a fixed facility programme. They’ve been instrumental in ensuring that we reach our goals and financial needs,” Zershi continues.
SUCCEEDING IN A TOUGH INDUSTRY
Through passion, hard work and dedication, Zershi and her family have managed to build Juan’re Clothing Manufacturers into a successful company. Asked about their recipe for success, Zershi says, “It’s definitely our work ethic. No task is too great or too menial. Humility, maintaining high-quality standards and consistency are key in our business. Embracing change and ensuring you’re current to the market and customers’ needs also helps.” Her advice to other women who would like to get into this field is: “Nothing is impossible if you are determined and willing to make sacrifices.”