Taking a pinch of modern day trends, a spoonful or two of African tradition and topping it all off with the colourful Zulu culture, has produced a sustainable social enterprise that is creating much needed livelihood for the disadvantaged.
This is what Nozipho Zulu has done for the community with her business and social initiative called ZuluGal Retro. Founded by the 32-year-old KwaZulu-Natal native hailing from kwaNongoma, it offers a wide selection of handcrafted goods.
The items are specifically conceptualised and individually created, making them one of a kind. They range from functional bags to accessories made from recyclable materials.
These items are particularly special because the business employs the intellectually disabled and women from deprived communities across KZN. Out of its total employee sum, they currently employ ten disabled people. Apart from the women and disabled, they also train young people who are unable to find employment and compensate them for their work and time.
The team of “crafters”, as Zulu so affectionately refers to them, have become quite the skilled bunch. Through careful coaching, she has introduced them to a practical skills set and trained her team in the art of weaving.
Weaving can be done using natural and recyclable materials. Learning such a skill allows each individual weaver the freedom to practice on their own and eventually run a business from home. Not only is this practical, but it allows the crafters to incur minimal expenses whilst maximising profits. This is greatly beneficial as most of them come from strained financial backgrounds and communities.
Zulu believes that her students’ use of the natural and industrial waste around them plays a role in cleaning up the environment they come from. She encourages them to share their new found knowledge with their respective communities in order to help those around them make a living too.
With a Bachelor of Technology in Fine Art from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) under her belt, she has quite an extensive track record. Upon completion of her studies, Zulu immediately incorporated them with her love for giving back. She partook in a number of community initiatives that involved the use of her knowledge in art.
This saw her work on projects that offered the opportunity to learn new skills and teach others how to develop their talents whilst earning an income.
“I studied entrepreneurship during that time and part of what I learnt included running a social entrepreneurship enterprise,” she said.
What inspired Zulu to empower those around her was the issue of how goods are bought in from different parts of the world, whereas people in our communities have the skills, but lack business knowledge to do so. This is exactly why she drills entrepreneurship into her students.
Her crafters (after their training) can contribute to the care of the environment whilst helping themselves out of financial strain. According to Zulu, a large number of her team have now established themselves individually as not only talented crafters but entrepreneurs as well. This makes her all too happy as she knows that the businesses they run are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
She optimistically looks at the future and anticipates expanding her production line. Most importantly she wants the number of crafters under her employment to grow whilst continuing with a sustainable business model.
The ZuluGal Retro products are sold at Gaze Art Gallery (Ramsgate), I Heart Market and the KZNSA Gallery.
photos supplied by IOL
~ Thabisile Ngeleka