Nothing's as lekker as the locally produced textile

With Africa and South Africa's manufacturing industry swamped by cheap Chinese goods, one entrepreneur, Zinhle Khumalo, believes there is still a huge market for Proudly Mzansi-produced textiles and apparel.

After working in administration for a number of years at corporates and parastatals such as Eskom and the eThekwini municipality in Durban, where she is based, Khumalo was inspired to venture into business in 2012 when an associate got a tender to manufacture hospital linen.

Khumalo, 37, from the township of Umlazi, says she was roped in with a number of other women to accelerate the production of bed linen for the Mpumalanga provincial government hospitals.

"After the end of the project many women were unemployed. So I was heartened to step in and help the women in the community of Umlazi. Some had small sewing machines and were doing 'piece jobs' just to sustain their families."

Three years later when the Mpumalanga contract ended in 2015, Khumalo established her Ikhethelo Textiles, creating employment for the home-based seamstresses in her community.

Today, she has 15 women in her employ and has a factory at Umlazi Industrial Site.

Ikhethelo Textiles specialises in producing clothing, including corporate and school uniforms, personal protective equipment (PPE), and T-shirts - but most importantly, makes use of locally sourced fabric.

In addition, it manufactures hospital linen with Alcopro, a special chemical that helps kill bacteria. "Initially, I didn't have any experience working with fabrics and cloth, but I was determined to learn.

"My resolve was to establish and own my Cut, Make and Trim factory (CMT). One other reason I started this factory is that we black people don't grow [our businesses] to become big factories."

Khumalo was fortunate, when she applied for funding at SA Breweries the conglomerate showed interest in her proposal and eventually assisted her with start-up capital for the equipment she lacked, mainly machinery.

"I then got down to work. I sent samples to my clients and everything started falling into place. I produced uniforms in the form of T-shirts with an embroidered logo for KFC.

Lately, I have been working with bigger clients like Transnet and Total SA.

"I was blown away when some of these big corporates offered me to use their premises because they have enormously large numbers of uniforms needing embroidery of the company logos. They wanted to assist by cutting my transport costs by working on site."

Although Ikhethelo Textiles' speciality is corporate uniform and protective gear, Khumalo is taking pride in her new venture, a range of luxurious bed linen made out of both 100% Egyptian cotton and bamboo fabric she has named Izinga Bedroom Affair.

"I'm passionate about community development and women empowerment and I've been involved in a lot of community projects dealing with social issues. I will be giving back 5% of Ikhethelo profit to skills development by helping adolescents with basic sewing skills."

Khumalo, a mother of two, who stays in Morningside, Durban, also revealed that realistically running a business has its difficulties. She was mentored by Christiaan Boland, an expert in garments from the Netherlands.

Another big textile firm that has partnered with her by giving her "smaller jobs" is Durban-based ABA. "I look up to them for inspiration. In the long term I would like to open another branch in KwaMashu to create further job opportunities for women in that community. As an SAB KickStart Boost finalist, Khumalo hopes to gain in-depth knowledge within her industry and gain access to other markets.

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