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Eco-friendly product puts bread on the table

Written by Mbulelo Baloyi

Focus on the provinces

Caring for the environment is something most people are aware of, but they either do nothing about it or only do it as voluntary work. A group of Eastern Cape women have found a way to contribute to a better environment, while also earning money to feed their families.

Reaching success has been a long, difficult road for members of the Greater Uitenhage Sewing Co-operative (GUSCO). What started six years ago as three informal groups making school uniforms, has turned into a successful co-operative business.   

GUSCO supplies colourful, re-usable fabric shopping bags to Woolworths. Because the bags are re-usable and made of fabric instead of plastic, they do not pollute the environment. This means they are environment-friendly, or eco-friendly for short.

Fighting poverty

GUSCO has a yearly income of about R2 million and helps to fight poverty by employing more than 30 people.

The co-operative first got funding from local motor assembly company, Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA). VWSA provides the premises where the co-op manufactures its shopping bags, on a lease basis.

The co-op also received some support from the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

SEDA helped the all-women co-operative with business support services, such as registering their business, drawing up a business plan, planning for production, marketing and financial management.

Other than SEDA and VWSA, the co-operative also received help from the Uitenhage Despatch Development Initiative. This is a local organisation focusing on developing SMMEs in the area.

Hard work

Getting the contract to supply the re-usable bags to Woolworths required a lot of hard work as the product had to meet the high standards of this up-market retail store.

Armed with a working business plan, the co-operative was able to get a R500 000 loan from a financial institution. This helped them to buy 22 new sewing machines, which they use to produce almost 8 000 shopping bags a week.

Commitment

Woolworths has been buying environment-friendly shopping bags from GUSCO since 2005. The bags form part of the Woolworths’ commitment to use environment-friendly products. It also shows the company’s commitment to support the development of small and medium-sized businesses.

Apart from Woolworths, which buys 30 per cent of the overall shopping bag production, the co-op also supplies eco-friendly products to other customers.