From a P1000.00 business start-up loan, Patience Mashabane has built a highly profitable leteisi (African print) fashion business that employs 21 people and posts an annual turnover of more than half a million Pula. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO reports
Fifteen years ago all that the then 35-year-old Patience Mashabane could boast of in business was her unique skill to make the best German print (leteisi) garments and a vast demand from customers who could not have enough of her designs. She had interest in starting a formal business, but her greatest hurdle was lack of start-up capital. But like the saying goes; where there is a will there is a way. Somebody introduced her to Thusang Basadi (Women’s Finance House). Together with two other ladies, they knocked at Thusang Basadi’s offices and made their request for financial assistance known. When finally the organisation approved her request and it gave her a P1000 loan. Mashabane knew that her dreams had just been given a new lease of life. “Back in 1995, P1000 was a lot of money. I was able to buy almost all that I needed to set shop,” said Mashabane.The loan helped set her in the road to success. Two months later she got some more assistance (P2000 loan) from Thusang Basadi to expand her business even more and the rest as the say is history.
Mashabane currently runs an art and cultural centre at the Gaborone station, where she specialises in designing and selling the traditional leteisi (all designs and styles) and other cultural fashion accessories. She also designs outfits as per customer requirement. Her clientele include individuals and companies. She never had a formal training in fashion and design – hers is purely God given talent. Having started designing and selling her products from her backyard, she said the growth in demand and appraisals she got from happy clients made her realise that she had found her niche and hence worked on growing it. The business has grown in leaps and bounds. She currently has 21 employees, 15 of which are women. With an annual turnover of about P500 000 Mashabane has been able to use some of the proceeds to start up other businesses. “I was able to buy some equipment to start up a pre-school and with more financial assistance from Thusang Basadi I was able to set up shop and now have a fully functioning pre-school in operation,” she said. Her business, however, is not without challenges. According to Mashabane, the cost of acquiring raw materials from local suppliers sometimes is unnecessarily high, hence putting a dent on her production costs.
As if competing with these big players to acquire her materials is not enough, Mashabane said she also faces a serious problem of having to compete with counterfeit products from China. “They at times steal my designs and make replicas from cheap fake leteisi,” she said. However she said that her strength lies in the strong loyal customer base she has. As a woman who has had to face hurdles before making it big in business, Mashabane acknowledged that most women looking to get into business often face financial challenges and often have self-doubts. She has taken it upon herself to mobilise a lot of them and actually assisted them into getting started by either advising them or referring them to Thusang Basadi. Mashabane’s dedication and cutting edge approach to business is also shared by Thusang Basadi field officer, Anna Molaodi who works closely with her. According to Molaodi, Mashabane is one of their star clients who has not only made a success out of her business and paid back her loans in time but is also instrumental and exemplary to other women. Mashabane’s word to aspiring female entrepreneurs is that they should be focused and unapologetic when they want to venture into business. She said one should be as original as possible and plan accordingly when pursuing their dreams.