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Agoa greases wheels for SA entrepreneurs

Act paves way to US markets

Noxolo Sibiya Journalist
Pauline Chirume and her daughter Tamburai.
Pauline Chirume and her daughter Tamburai.
Image: Pauline Chirume

Pauline Chirume and her daughter Tamburai have taken over major cities in the US with their leather handbags.

The mother and her 33-year-old daughter co-founded ONEOFEACH, a textile handbag company that has now infiltrated markets in New York and Washington DC.

Pauline, 67, is a self-taught fashion designer who over the past 40 years has carved her speciality in creating innovative products out of waste material as well new textiles using natural fibres.

Her love for textiles, one passed on by her mother, led to her running her own clothing factory, and ultimately influencing her daughter too. 

Taking from her mother and grandmother, Tamburai, the company’s managing director,  worked in the fashion retail and styling industry, which saw her join major fashion magazine Elle Bulgaria. 

She then joined the banking world of Wealth and Investments with the FNB Group, which has helped her conceptualise the ONEOFEACH dream to become a business reality.

Their business has been able to reach clients overseas because of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) – a US Trade Act that was enacted on in May 2000.

Agoa allows 35 qualifying sub-Saharan countries to export 1,835 tariff lines duty-free, to a significant consumer market in the US.

In 2014, the duo based in Cape Town, Western Cape, brought their vision of making handbags to life on very little, but off-cuts leather and fabrics Pauline collected all over the continent during her travels. 

“We had no manufacturing space but an office at home. We exposed ourselves to all the top markets in the Western Cape until we managed to get our own permanent spot at the Watershed in the V&A Waterfront and a studio space in the CBD area,” said Tamburai.

Their handbags are made of from leather off-cuts and various textiles and are usually embellished using artisanal handcrafted patterns such as embroidery and beading. 

“We also have a select range of other fashion accessories and apparel such as scarfs and coats, which are often a limited edition.” 

In 2017, Tamburai found out about Agoa and they have never looked back since, owing their popularity in the two states to the diversity as well as a growing African Diaspora community in those areas. 

“Agoa has been impactful for us in a sense that when you find yourself at tradeshows and exhibitions to buyers because you’re from Africa you become a supplier of choice to them because many of them are aware of Agoa. The fact that there is no customs duty when your products reach their country. It has been very easy to be competitive in price as well, which is very important," said Tamburai. 

The duo established a social enterprise element to their business in 2018 through having established The African Academy of Fashion, which is a school that trains young women from underserved communities to be prepared to enter the fashion and manufacturing sector.  

They have trained over 300 women since 2018 and placed 80% of these women in jobs.

But their story is not without challenges. Nine years ago, accessing funding to grow the business to be able to capitalise on the fast-growing demand at the time was difficult.  

“We believe that in recent times this is shifting and more opportunities are available.  Entrepreneurship is about constantly re-inventing yourself. The challenges are ongoing and you need to have a solid foundation to be able to deal with them. 

“Besides the job creation I also run a nationwide programme called The Business of Creative Entrepreneurship in partnership with the US Embassy of SA to pass on the knowledge of how we have exported successfully under Agoa. The programme has trained more than 400 women since 2018 in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, George, Knysna and East London.”

Department of trade, industry and competition spokesperson Bongani Lukhele said SA was working to secure a renewal and extension of Agoa.

Another company that has benefitted from Agoa is Mo’s Crib, which is owned by sisters Michelle and Mo Mokone. It produces a range of handmade home décor products, including handwoven baskets, planters, trays, wall art and home outdoor items.

They took advantage of Agoa in 2021.

“Since 2021, we have shipped a total of eight containers to the US. We are on track to ship two more containers before year end of 2023. We also regularly ship a container to fulfil our orders for our online store, which is fulfilled through our warehouse in New Jersey.

“Although shipping is relatively expensive, especially for a small business that is 100% self-funded, we have benefited from the Agoa Act through significant market access. Currently, the US orders constitute 60% of our overall revenue,” said Michelle.

 sibiyan@sowetan.co.za


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