By Gabi Khumalo
Thato Ditsele had a dream of becoming a successful young businesswoman. However, with only R5000 in her bank account, for a while this remained as such – only a dream.
It was until she saw a poster advertising the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) Grant Programme that Ditsele realized that she could actually do something to pursue her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Today, Ditsele is among successful young designers in the country and the proud owner of Armor Designs.
During the launch of Youth Month held in Soweto at the beginning of June, Ditsele had an opportunity to showcase her latest women designer clothes, which caught the eyes of many people.
The 28-year-old’s journey in the fashion industry began at an early age when she was introduced to the world of fashion during the many trips she accompanied her grandmother to clothing boutiques in Johannesburg. While shopping, her grandmother would remind her that a woman should always look presentable.
By the time she was in Grade 12, Ditsele already knew that she was going to be an entrepreneur, but she also realized that in order to run a sustainable business, she needed to have a qualification in business. After matric, she enrolled at the University of Johannesburg and studied a Business Management Course.
As fate would have it, after completing her studies, Ditsele was fortunate to get a job in a boutique shop, which specialized in African print. She was appointed as a management assistant, and this is where she got an opportunity to learn more about the craft of making clothes, as well as the administration side of the business.
‘’I was responsible for almost everything from dealing with clients, showing them the new designs, take measurements and style them. Since the owner was transparent, I also learned how much to charge people, the right machines and fabric to buy, where to get them, and how much you pay your employees and yourself.’’
In less than a year, Ditsele felt that she had gained enough experience to go alone and tendered her resignation from the company.
Armed with only R5000, she registered her business, Armor Designs and was able to make three garments.
Power of social media
To market her business, Ditsele created an Instagram account and asked her husband to take photos of the garments, which she posted on the social media site. People started placing orders and her friends and family members became her number one clients.
While scanning through Facebook one day, Ditsele saw an advertisement from a Boutique shop in Soweto, where they were looking for new fashion designers to display their clothes at the shop.
She grabbed the opportunity and was asked to submit the designs, which they loved. After successfully securing a space at the shop, Armor Designs became popular and the sales skyrocketed.
This opened more opportunities for Ditsele to expand her business. Armor Designs are now available at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in Pretoria as well as the Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg.
Although her business was growing, Ditsele was still outsourcing everything because at the time she could not afford to buy her own equipment.
Help from the NYDA
A trip to Jabulani Mall in Soweto one day turned out to be a blessing for Ditsele as it was the day she became aware of the NYDA funding. She saw a poster on various grants offered by the agency to young entrepreneurs.
‘’I didn’t know about the grant and when I saw the poster, I quickly called the number and asked what was needed in order to be considered as a recipient. They explained everything, and I submitted an application for a R10 000 grant,’’ she says.
Ditsele’s application was approved and a NYDA official was sent to do a presentation. However, on arrival to Ditsele, the official probed about her long term goals for the business.
‘’I told her I want to have my own machinery and she advised me to apply for a R50 000 grant as I also qualify since my business was registered and I was already selling the clothes. I had to redo the application, submit my bank statements and tax number, they also checked how much the business was making and whether it was growing.
‘’It’s a long process, which took me three months because they double check everything, but it is worth it. When the grant was finally approved, I was able to buy the equipment that I needed,” Ditsele explains.
Ditsele is operating from a garage in her house situated in Roodepoort. She has since employed two full time employees and plans to hire more people as the demand for her clothes grows.
Her dream is to open different shops across the country and the continent. She also wants to employ graduates who can design for her.
‘’I want to sell my range abroad and start an online fashion shop, where people overseas can be able to buy from me. I also want to see my garments on the New York fashion week.’’
Ditsele encourages the youth to study, adding that one has a leg to stand on with a tertiary qualification. “If anything should go wrong in your business, you can do a lot from a qualification as you have both theory and practical.”
She also advised unemployed graduates to come together and combine their qualifications and ideas to start their own businesses, and employ students from universities. By doing this, she says, they gain experience, which the employers want when applying for jobs.
Ditsele spends her time balancing her life as a businesswoman, wife and a mom to a two-year old daughter.