JOHANNESBURG – Embracing the idea that reinvention is at the heart of most entrepreneurial ventures is something that Nandipha Msebenzi is very good at.
This 24-year-old businesswoman from the Eastern Cape who now lives and works in Durban, smiles when you put it to her this way.
“Yes you’re right” she says with a quiet dignity. “I have strong feelings when it comes to decisions about whether to stick to what you know or break loose and following your dreams. At heart I have always been an artist, loving design and colour. But I am also practical and know that you need to have money in your bank account at the end of the month. So anything you do is a bit like a juggling act.”
So while her business brain pushed her in the direction of her chosen career in the competitive freight logistics industry, her inner voices decided that she needed to get away from the corporate business world and do something completely different.
The different world she had chosen explores fashion accessories with a distinctive alternative edge.
“I think it’s about choosing the right time to change direction,” she says. “It’s about listening to those instincts within us all, that tell you – there’s another world out there you need to explore. I always say living with regrets is not a good thing. As long as you have a fall-back position, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do something you really love – and for me that was creating beautiful accessories.”
She admits it was a scary decision to leave a steady well paid job. Understandably her family and friends were worried for her, not sure that her career change was such a good idea.
But once on a new trajectory it was out with her logistic skills of moving goods from warehouse A to warehouse B and making sure all the admin was in place, and in with her new journey involving designing quirky new-age jewellery, not out of metal and bling but thin plywood and acrylic paints.
Sound a bit weird? Well not when you come up close and personal to her range, which takes you from contemporary African to exotic adornment that could have come from The Game of Thrones.
“I’ve always had this desire to create beautiful jewellery, not in a conventional way but using thin featherweight plywood, that I had seen and worked with in the freight industry. Using natural recyclable materials is something that appeals to me. It’s distinctive, easy to wear and there’s limitless scope for new ideas, interesting 3D paint techniques, and unique designs.”
She says that making a success of her new business, which she calls Alude and can be found on Facebook, was a non-negotiable.
“My family were so proud of my business achievements, so I could understand they were a bit disappointed at the route I was taking. In a way though it made me all the more determined to make it work.”
Currently Msebenzi is enjoying her second year in the fashion accessory business, using social media to promote her ranges.
She says her logistics and business training at the SA Maritime College in Durban had taught her the ins and outs of business and the finer points of packaging and consignments.
“You have to think about affordability, weight, durability and ease of packaging. I believe I have ticked all those boxes.”
The proof that following her heart was the right thing to do is borne out in her order book, which so far looks very healthy, with orders coming in from all parts of the country.
“But there always comes that moment” she says "when you say should I stay small and be happy with a little bit of profit or take that big step to the next level?"
She has chosen the latter route, training and employing a small team of people able to handcraft as many as 1000 basic pieces a day depending on the orders.
The inspiration for her handmade jewellery can come from anywhere, she explains.
“It could be a colourful dress someone is wearing, or a headscarf. It could be a bird, a pack of playing cards, or a striking design on a wall. I never know what to expect next, that’s why you can never be bored. Once I have my ideas, I get out my acrylic paints and start designing. Wood is such a wonderful medium to work with. It almost guides you and tells you what you should be doing.”
But like most entrepreneurs, crossroads are always difficult to negotiate. Should you take the big leap or stay safe?
“I have always loved challenges” with a wry half smile, “so I will probably not take the safe option.
It’s a decision she says that is based on an increasing demand for bigger bulk orders of her wooden jewellery.
“But that’s another huge step I need to think about. Hopefully that’s where my logisitics training will come in useful.”
As part of that evolving business process Msebenzi is involved in an EduPower mentorship programme that she believes will give her the skills to progress further and explore much wider markets.