#LearningCurve | Building her vintage-urban brand
"I sell clothing, I sell art to my customers and I sell confidence."
Tucked away in bustling Westbourne Road in Richmond Hill is Mbukwashe Zwide’s quaint store Hombakazi Vintage Cabin – a unique fashion brand which aims to give its customers a vintage-urban style and look.
The 32-year-old started the brand in her mom’s garage in Njoli, Port Elizabeth, in 2014 after resigning from her job at software company Hewlett-Packard in Johannesburg.
Since then she has grown the brand, which now has more than 42,000 Instagram followers.
“I sell clothing, I sell art to my customers and I sell confidence,” Zwide said.
Where was the business idea born?
It was definitely born in Joburg – on campus and being around young people.
I was in Auckland Park, the hub of film and fashion.
But the whole idea of me resigning was because I wanted to bring the fashion home.
What do you think makes your business unique?
I carry my brand.
The way I put my pieces together makes this business and my brand unique.
I give my customers a feel as to how they can style the clothing.
If someone wanted to take one key lesson from your business model, what would it be?
You need to be consistent.
You need to be able to innovate.
You need to be able to keep up with customer demand and trends.
If there isn’t a demand for a particular clothing item, then I try to sell it differently by styling it differently, and you would be amazed what happens.
It’s my number one trick.
There has never been a moment I wanted to quit.
Fear does creep in sometimes, but I know I just have to make it work.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?
Handling my finances was a challenge.
There is so much that goes into starting your own company and you need to have proper systems in place.
It was also tough finding the right people to run the ship. What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
With making and selling clothing, I have just recently had to protect my profile on Instagram.
The reason behind that is because local retailers or buyers are being attacked and our work is being stolen by Chinese producers.
They replicate some of our work and then charge a fraction of the price.
So that’s our biggest challenge.
A couple of the items I have made, they’re in the market right now.
You could go to Traduna Mall and you’ll find them at a fraction of the price.
It actually starts to affect my brand because people end up questioning our credibility.
But a lot of our customers know what’s going on and you can honestly tell the difference between my garments and the others in the market – the fabric is inferior and how it’s structured is totally different.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?
If there is one thing I took from my mom, it’s that you need to value your customers.
Always have time for your customers. Yes, we are self-employed, but essentially the customers are our bosses.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
It’s something that you continuously strive for. I am on my way there.
It hasn’t been easy and I have failed a couple of times but I always managed to pick myself up.
What kind of advertising do you do?
I use social media – Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp stories.
What are some of your highlights in running your business?
Buying my own production company has definitely been a highlight.
Also being featured in Forbes magazine as “one of the stores of the future”.
How many people do you employ?
I employ five people.
How do you motivate staff?
I introduce incentives.
I tell my staff to break down their targets.
If they need to reach a certain point within three months, I tell them to break it down into daily targets.
I share the vision with them.
I would be nothing without my team.
Whenever I travel, I rest knowing that they are taking great care of my ship.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
Once you had funding, what was the first step in actually launching the business? Getting on a plane to Joburg to go buy my stock.
And then I started in my mom’s garage.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?
You have to do the research before you start and understand the industry you want to get involved in.
It’s important to get yourself a mentor.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
There aren’t a whole lot of us doing this.
Despite your mainstream retail stores, there are only a few of us.
I get immense support from Port Elizabeth.
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Passion. Loving what you do. Come hell or high water, you’re going to make it work.
There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes. When you are doing what you love, it is so worth it...