Fund sinks thousands in e-fashion start-up

Entrepreneur on mission to create superwomen

Native Nylon’s Portia Dhlamini, beneficiary of VC funding from (right) Milisa Mabinza of Khula Lula
Native Nylon’s Portia Dhlamini, beneficiary of VC funding from (right) Milisa Mabinza of Khula Lula
Image: SUPPLIED

Milisa Mabinza, the founder of one of South Africa’s first solely black-woman-owned private equity fund for black women tech start-ups, is launching its first funded business, Native Nylon, a fashion e-commerce company to the tune of R200,000.

The private equity fund known as Khula Lula is led by a group of 20-something-year-old black women for black women entrepreneurs.

“When I was six years old, my father showed me an Old Mutual investment for my university fees and even though I didn’t really understand what he was showing me, that was the seed [planted],” said Mabinza.

The 29-year-old from Willowvale in the Eastern Cape said she was raised by her mom who is a teacher and her late father who was a doctor.

“My love for entrepreneurship and business comes from my upbringing. My grandparents, siblings, mom and dad are in some form of business,” she said.

Mabinza, who is a University of Johannesburg alumni, graduated with a BCom honours in investment management.

But it was the death of her beloved father last year that led to her taking the leap into building up her own private equity fund.

“Three days after my father passed away, I decided to set up Khula Lula. I spent the whole night researching,” she said.

Mabinza said though she had been working to build her own wealth by buying stocks in various companies all over the world, she also wanted something she could own. The young businesswoman said her dad was a big fan of empowerment and she wanted to also use her privilege to empower other black women.

After opening up applications for tech companies to apply for funding in January, she received 37 applications from black women companies. “I wanted every woman to feel that they stood a chance to be accepted, then Covid-19 came and I still needed to meet people. We decided on Portia because of her work ethic and because she stood out as one of the brands that wants to bring affordability and luxury to clothing. We thought it would be easy to scale,” said Mabinza.

The bubbly but shrewd Mabinza said her work is important because most start-ups that are funded are male-led. “I wanted to break away from traditional forms of funds. Black women have a lack of access to investors ... there is a lack of inclusivity. Many venture capitalists are male and white and people usually fund people who look like themselves,” she said.

Portia Dhlamini, who is the recipient of the first fund, said it is an honour to be chosen. “Native Nylon was just in pre-seed form when this partnership was birthed, so to see everything unfold has been beautiful and I have the pleasure of working with a visionary who really has her heart set on disrupting and redefining the private equity space. My heart is full of gratitude,” she said.

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