Isiyalu is a customised manufacturing and production business specialising in protective clothing and active wear. Clients give us their recommendations, we then match that with the right cloth, cut the patterns, put together the design and do the printing and embroidery.
We used to do the manufacturing ourselves and outsource the printing. But this made it difficult to control production because chances were that our delivery would be delayed. We decided to invest in a screen printing machine to do everything inhouse, adding to our cotton-based embroidery machine.
The business has two delivery channels – one directly to the industrial customer, the other to the retail store that opens in July where individuals can buy the merchandise. The decision to open a retail space is to keep the business and cashflow sustainable during quiet times when client demand is less. This means we can have our employees working continuously and not lose income. The nature of our business dictates that we mostly manufacture to order instead of stocking up.
I started working with the Tholoana Enterprise Programme in 2014 when I was looking to expand. The BEE regulations were coming into the mainstream with corporates, so I researched companies that were receptive to entrepreneurship development. SAB was one of them. I applied and was successful the first time around. The 18-month programme covered entrepreneurial courses such as financial management and marketing.
At first, I was not convinced by all this theoretical work and just wanted a direct cash injection into the business so that I could meet my orders. However, I learned that there is a reward to being patient. I learned that you must crawl before you can run, which meant learning how to put different systems in place to enable the business to run more professionally and eventually grow. That 18 months prepared me in a way that I did not even know I needed. I finally understood that the programme does bear fruit even if some of your immediate needs cannot be fulfilled.
When Isiyalu started, we had four employees. Now we have 45 people working here, most of whom are women, and we are opening a 70sqm retail store in Southgate Mall which will stock our own original sportswear line called Legance Active, as well as other specialised clothing we manufacture.
When I left corporate employment in 2012 to fully dedicate myself to the business, I took it for granted that my marketing background, with retail management and factory production experience, would be enough. The total package in which the Tholoana Enterprise Programme has been designed gave me direction; steadily but surely. You can get overwhelmed when trying to balance your time with the requirements of the programme, as well as other opportunities that crop up, but it’s all worth it in the end.
Before the Tholoana Enterprise Programme, we did not have the experience on how to gain access to the market. We also did not necessarily have the confidence and ability to generate business. After the programme, we gained confidence in engaging clients and could sell ourselves better. This opened markets and expanded our client base.
One of the ways we are contributing to the economy is through the ripple effect of the business. It impacts other suppliers of consumables such as buttons and ink, local graphic designers, IT specialists and so on. Even within the Tholoana Enterprise Programme, we have a group set up where we exchange services and expertise. That is just another way that small entrepreneurs can grow among themselves.
Based on these learnings, I grew in confidence and in the way I conducted business. I would encourage any entrepreneur to do this because you would stand a better chance of growing your business exponentially in a partnership where you are guided through the challenges, encouraged through stormy days and access opportunities where doors were closed before.