Khayelitsha women want to start a clothing factory

“We want others to see that as women, we can create our own opportunities and succeed,” says founder of sewing business

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Founder of Kamvelihle Clothing Bongiwe Jonga wants to expand to a bigger business. Photos: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Bongiwe Jonga, Abigail Mashologu, and Nomawabo Ntshuntshe launched a sewing business in November 2023.
  • Nine women now work at Kamvelihle Clothing Manufacturing and Trade, making clothes for sale in Khayelitsha, Philippi and Gugulethu.
  • They have also started a work experience programme for two participants.

In November 2023, Bongiwe Jonga, Abigail Mashologu and Nomawabo Ntshuntshe established Kamvelihle Clothing Manufacturing and Trade. At the time they were still students at Taking Care of Business (TCB), a non-profit organisation that seeks to empower aspiring entrepreneurs.

After advertising their services on Facebook, they soon landed their first client, who ordered 70 graduation gowns.

“Since we were students, we used the sewing machines at TCB. But other students also wanted to use the machines and that became a challenge for us. So we decided to rather look for a place that we could rent and be able to work in our own time,” said Jonga.

Their first machines were domestic models and had faulty overlockers, but that did not faze them. Later, Beaches Factory in Maitland donated six industrial sewing machines.

The three founders now employ six women and produce a range of items, from tracksuits and formal clothing to children’s wear, headbands and turbans.

They buy discounted material from AVM Material Centre in Wynberg, Studio 47 and TCB.

The women make clothing based on clients’ orders, but they also make pencil cases, travel pouches and chair covers. Every Friday, a trader collects their merchandise to sells at markets in Philippi and Khayelitsha.

Most clients come through social media and word of mouth, and sales at local markets.

They also take donated clothes and repair and resell them or make them into new garments.

Ntshuntshe has launched her own brand, Nomawabo’s Designs, creating formal wear for women.

“I used to sit at home and do nothing. Now, I have my own line, and I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream,” she said.

Jonga said she always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. But she had financial constraints and a violent, troubled marriage which made her lose her self-esteem. Family support helped her regain her courage to pursue her dream. She has now established Elado Wear as her brand.

The smallness of the space, where only four people can work at a time, is a major challenge. And several of the sewing machines are faulty.

“We can’t take on big orders because of our limited resources,” said Jonga. “But we are determined to expand and enhance our operations.”

Nosiphiwo Zenzile and Thobeka Maya are taking part in a work experience programme at Kamvelihle Clothing Manufacturing and Trade.

Jonga has initiated a work experience programme in collaboration with Learn to Earn, a skills development organisation.

“There are a lot of women studying and doing sewing training, but when they have to find work, they need experience. Since they don’t have experience, they won’t be able to find employment,” said Jonga.

She said most of these women struggle to find jobs because they are over 35 and lack work experience.

Currently, two women use the Kamvelihle Clothing Manufacturing and Trade workspace three times a week. For two days, they are taught about production and producing quality clothing. On the third day, they can make anything they want to sell.

Thobeka Maya, a participant in the programme, was making tracksuits when GroundUp arrived.

“Here we learn a lot,” she said. “We’re not only given the opportunity to get work experience; we get to be self-sufficient.”

Looking to the future, Jonga said she hopes to set up a larger factory in Khayelitsha, where she’ll be able to employ more people and make a greater impact. “We are tired of waiting on empty promises,” she said.

“We want others to see that as women, we can create our own opportunities and succeed.”

The nine women produce a range of items, from tracksuits and formal clothing to children’s wear, headbands and turbans.

The women design their own clothes. They say they get inspiration from current fashion trends and Pinterest.

TOPICS:  Economy Gender

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