A needle and thread helped a Gauteng entrepreneur stitch up a brighter future for herself and her community.
Ponani Shikweni is an Alexandra local who has gone from teaching herself how to sew, to running a business which employs 32 previously unemployed people in the township.
Shikweni started sewing in 2014, using only her hands. She then taught herself to sew with a machine, and began making clothes. Recognising that unemployed young women in the township could easily fall into the trap of substance abuse, she started getting these youth on board.
“I hired six other women. These young women were unemployed and had very few opportunities until I recruited them to join our co-operative, Hluvuko Designs. Having no income and no job can lead people to some desperate, dangerous actions, and so we are also helping them avoid getting involved with drugs and crime,” says Shikweni.
In 2015, private hospital group Netcare heard about Shikweni’s good work and decided to support her through their transformation initiative.
“Ponani and the ladies from Hluvuko Designs impressed us from the start,” says Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba, Netcare’s Director of Transformation.
Netcare helped Shikweni get her business registered in 2019, and commissioned the team to sew items such as conference bags, pillowcases and blankets. Netcare also assisted with training on how to run a factory.
With the arrival of COVID-19, there was suddenly a massive demand for face masks, so Shikweni started sewing masks.
“Netcare asked us to make 10 000 cloth face masks for their staff members and we got another big order for 20 000 facemasks from the Youth Employment Service initiative and Exemplar, which hands out the masks for free to people shopping at Alex Mall,” says Shikweni.
Due to the demand, Shikweni was able to hire more people from the township. The business now employs 32 Alex women, 19 of which are youth.
“We have bought more big sewing machines and we recently bought our own vehicle, which is already making a big difference to our business,” she says.
Shikweni encourages young women to always surround themselves with positive people who can help them out of difficult circumstances.
She adds that people who want to be entrepreneurs should follow their heart. “Don’t listen to the people who criticise you. Be strong and do what your heart tells you to do, and put everything into that.”