Sea voyages inspire clothing line

Constance Nengovhela has started a fashion line for people who work at sea
Constance Nengovhela has started a fashion line for people who work at sea
Image: supplied

Thirty-four-year-old Constance Nengovhela was feeling lonely and isolated at sea when she came up with an idea to create an inspirational clothing line for people who work in the shipping industry.

The entrepreneur, who was born at Hamashau village in Venda, Limpopo, started off her career as deputy registrar of seafarers in the South African Maritime Safety Authority and was later promoted to boating manager. In 2017, she joined Grindrod shipping as a navigation officer. "We [women at sea] are subjected to name-calling. People think we are working at sea as prostitutes because they do not understand our work," she said.

Nengovhela said it was during her second time back at sea with Grindrod that she decided to create Life Beyond, a company that offers inspirational clothing, mentorship through HR services and inspirational talks. She said the idea was to give people who work at sea the necessary support they need.

She sells clothing with inspirational messages to remind seafarers that they are not alone.

The T-shirts, hoodies, sweaters and bodysuits, among others, are not just clothing items but keepsakes with positive messages printed on them to motivate seafarers as they face hardships while at sea.

"Life Beyond was inspired by the bad weather which my ship encountered during a sea passage from Australia to the Middle East, a passage that stretches over 22 to 24 days without seeing any land.

"During this particular voyage, the weather was terrible, with the ship rolling 20 degrees, leaving all crew members unable to sleep properly for several days," she said.

Nengovhela said during bad weather, seafarers often ask themselves whether working at sea is the right thing to do.

"I was not exempted from this thinking. I started to question the purpose of my existence and the reason for being.

"Eventually, as we kept sailing through the storm, the weather started to improve," she said.

Nengovhela said one morning when she was on duty in the wheelhouse, she noticed that the dark, gloomy clouds had dissipated, leaving a beautiful blue sky.

"Then suddenly as I was still appreciating the blue sky, a beautiful rainbow appeared on the horizon," she said.

This was the moment that Nengovhela realised that she should not give up on her job at sea.

Nengovhela currently has 10 people working for her clothing company on a part-time basis. "Our business model has been designed around work-on-demand as we move away from the traditional full-time employment model.

"We have a team of freelancers who work only when required by operational needs," Nengovhela said.

She said she used her life savings to fund her company and that getting funding has been a difficult task.

"We are open for partnerships in order to realise our vision of creating a positive human, social and economic impact through character building, empowerment and gradual job creation to aid in sustaining the South African economic ecosystem," she said.

Nengovhela said she still needs more funding. "However, as Life Beyond is more of a calling, we decided to start with the limited resources at our disposal as we understand the urgency around our product and service offerings."

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