An art no one dreamt of

She is young, black, gifted and she has taken the fashion industry by storm.

She is young, black, gifted and she has taken the fashion industry by storm.

Having just won R100000 from South African Breweries, emerging entrepreneur , 31-year-old Balungile Sonkhulu has no doubt that her company, African Newspapers Designs, which recycles newspapers into fashion accessories, is here to stay.

Sonkhulu founded his company, which based is in Gamalakhe, near Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal, in 2004 because she wanted to create employment for women in rural areas and also to introduce a new form of art.

A fashion design graduate, Sonkhulu, who describes herself as a trendsetter, is a designer with the rare talent of turning newspapers into fashion statements.

It was her passion for textile design that drew her to newspapers.

With the help of seven women Sonkhulu uses her hands to turn newspapers into fashionable bags, belts, lamps, caps and many other accessories.

Her exquisite collection has not gone unnoticed. She has secured orders from corporate companies and gift shops.

Her dream is to expand the range into furniture and to set up more studios to create further employment opportunities and transfer skills to more women. She is counting on an investor to make her dream a reality.

Q: Why did you choose this field?

A: I was fascinated by the various things that people can create with newspaper.

I also liked the idea of creating the new art medium because newspapers have not been used before. It also provided an opportunity to address global warming.

Q: What makes your accessories unique?

A: The fact that they are made from newspapers and that they are all handmade. My accessories are also very colourful, which is very African.

Q: What did you do before you got into the fashion industry?

A: I designed clothes until I discovered newspapers.

Q: What challenges did you encounter when you started your business?

A: Being young and a woman became a challenge because some people did not take me seriously. I had to work twice as hard to get what I wanted.

It is only now that people are beginning to listen to me.

I also found it difficult to get funding. Potential investors were reluctant to commit themselves because I had no machinery. I only use hands.

It is actually easier for businesses who use machinery to secure funding. Also, there is not enough support from the government and some private companies. This poses a problem when people who want to start a business need funding.

As a result I am now forced to ask my clients to pay a 50 percent deposit upfront when they place their orders.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

A: Getting the much-needed financial boost from South African Breweries and some exposure in the media.

These opportunities have opened doors for me and they have helped to take the business forward.

Q: What motivates you?

A: Knowing that I have made a difference in one person's life by imparting skills that can change that person's life for the better

Q: Where to from here?

A: I would like to see the company grow and to introduce a wider range, such as furniture, interior decor and so on.

I would also like to secure more funding so that I can set up more studios.