Sustainable business for a brighter tomorrow

04 May 2022 - 07:00
By Azande Makhosi
Image: Richard Bell.

One of the cornerstones of a successful business is innovation, and when that innovation meets sustainability through upcycling; environmentally healthy magic happens.

Upcycling is a method of waste management that converts discarded items into new, usable products that can be re-sold, minimising waste in landfills.

Upcycling businesses also make a significant contribution to the circular economy because this business model prioritizes the re-use and recycling of materials for a longer lifespan.

One such business that is driven by this concept is Ozzys Eco Décor which gives a new life to old tyres by creating furniture and accessories. Based in the Eastern Cape, the company which was co-founded by Yolanda Msutwana had a truly serendipitous start.

“One day I found a stray tyre laying in my yard. I disposed of it, and two days later I found more tyres. I began to imagine a better solution that would give new life to wasted objects and create a more sustainable future for the environment that I love,” she said.

Msutwana first created tyre ottomans, but the company’s collection has since grown to include coffee tables, side tables, and even wall clocks, mirrors and lamps.

Since inception, the company has enjoyed several accolades including the Hattag and Atlanta Market favourite Award whilst exhibiting in the USA, as well as representing South Africa in Kuwait at a SADC week.

“It’s really nice to get out there and meet people on a global level, as well as seeing what trends they have on the other side,” says Msutwana. “At the time when we started, we had people saying: ‘I won’t have a tyre inside my house’, but outside the country, upcycling and recycling was already the buzz thing that was already happening, so we were well received,” she said.

Preserving African culture is important to Ozzys Eco Décor because the aim is to create pieces that represent distinct African craftsmanship while producing high-quality products with a global appeal.

“Each piece contributes to environmental preservation and is named to honour its heritage,” said Msutwana. She added that her business gives clients creative freedom to design their own unique and bespoke piece of furniture or accessory.

Glass is another material that is widely used in upcycling as it can easily be transformed into decorative showpieces. Golden Mashego is the founder of Leshego Ceramics.

“The business seeks to enhance people's beauty with hand-made jewellery created from recycled glass bottles,” he said.

 He added that every product they make, help keep the environment clean. “We are not just a jewellery shop, but we are also nature conservationist,” he said proudly.

Whilst growing up in an impoverished environment, Mashego realised that entrepreneurship was one way in which he could make a living to support his family.

“I was raised by a single parent who earned vey little. As a young fellow I realised that entrepreneurship could be our financial reliever as it requires no qualification to trade. You just have to identify a need in society and solve it for people,”said Mashego.

Mashego decided to start a business that would allow him to use materials that were readily available. After testing different prototypes using potential waste items, he ultimately found that making jewellery from used glass bottles was successful.

Like many entrepreneurs, raising capital initially proved to be a challenge. “The biggest challenges we faced was getting finance to expand when demand from customers grew. We approached various funding agencies to assist us with 60% of the funds as we had already raised 40% from our sales,” he said.

The company, which was established in 2017, is 100% Black-owned, with 20% of the workforce being differently abled persons. Leshego Ceramics also offers a buy back and recycling center that specialises in the collection and sorting of waste from the streets, malls, hospitals and tuck-shops.

For its efforts, the business has been recognised by the Mpumalanga provincial government and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

Another environmentally conscious business, is Ambesha Africa founded by Trudy Mkansi. “We want to create value to society by creating local employment opportunities and access to locally-made products---products that will last longer, are easily repairable and recyclable as a contribution to our environment, she said.

Ambesha Africa manufactures custom-made patio furniture, and the business has been thriving for the past six years

“The pandemic shocked so many companies and we saw companies closing their doors. It was humbling to see our small business, weathering through the pandemic and navigating back to business,” said Mkansi.

Her love for craft began at a young age. “As a child I used to see my grandmother hand-making sea grass mats. I would imitate her and create my own mini working station. Little did I know that that was the beginning of my passion for craft,” she said.

Running a sustainable business has its challenges. “Producing goods in an environmentally friendly way can often mean spending more money initially, as it can require research and investment in new production method,” she said.

Despite the potential challenges, ultimately upcycling and environmentally aware businesses are a necessary part of our economic growth.  For a better tomorrow for all, we need more businesses that are focused on the preservation of our planet.