LEARNING CURVE | Self-taught East Cape designer making waves

COMMITTED WORK ETHIC: Dressmaker Sanele Filana, owner of The Crown Cafè, says fashion design is part of her identity
COMMITTED WORK ETHIC: Dressmaker Sanele Filana, owner of The Crown Cafè, says fashion design is part of her identity
Image: ANNELISA SWANA

Qoboqobo-born self-taught designer and dressmaker Sanele Filana started her business to make ends meet and pay her university fees.

Little did the The Crown Cafè owner know that she would be making waves with her designs in the Port Elizabeth fashion industry.

Please share some background on yourself and how you started your business

I’m a 24-year-old young woman from Qoboqobo, a small village in the Eastern Cape.

I graduated with an IT diploma at Nelson Mandela University, but I am more passionate about fashion design and the creative arts.

Coming from a very disadvantaged background, in my second year of study I started a business to help make ends meet and pay my varsity fees.

What is your core service?

My business offers bespoke designing services and dressmaking for very special occasions.

What makes your business unique?

I am self-taught and I have lots more to offer as I am also a creative artist.

Outside the fact that I could make clothing from a very young age, I would also like to think I am very good at what I do.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

They would have to shadow me and see how I work on a daily basis.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

Funding, funding, funding.

My biggest challenge was getting funding, I tried most of the channels people normally go to but I was very unfortunate.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

I would like to share two tips with other budding entrepreneurs.

  1. They should identify exactly what it is that they would like to offer, because if you don’t know what you are doing, you cannot expect people to take you seriously.
  2. Stop seeking validation, believe in yourself and what you can do, it starts with you. You are the only person who can truly push yourself and actually make things happen, and remember no-one owes you anything.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?

Over the years I’ve struggled so much with day-to-day operations, especially when it comes to sticking to my schedule but I guess it can get really hectic when you are working by yourself and have to get everything done in time.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

I think it was when someone told me to believe in myself and that “when you quit, you fail” and I honestly don’t think I would have made it this far if I gave in every time I felt like quitting.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

Yes financials are important, but for me what I would like to consider as success is the overall growth in clientele and staying current in the market.

What kind of advertising do you do?

I have been focusing more on social media and online advertising but I’m now working on other tactics to spread the word about my business, attract customers and generate sales.

Qoboqobo-born self-taught designer and dressmaker Sanele Filana started her business to make ends meet and pay her university fees. Little did the The Crown Cafè owner know that she would be making waves with her designs in the Port Elizabeth fashion industry.

What is your company’s vision?

My vision for the company is to expand into greater heights and also introduce a new era of creativity and culture into the fashion industry.

What is your target market?

My business appeals to a variety of bold, elegant and confident women, not only the  young but also the much older and mature with a specific taste in fashion.

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

The amazing growth in clientele and the amount of love and support we have received locally and across the country have been my highlights thus far.

How important are social media and an online presence for your business?

Social media and an online presence plays a very crucial role in my business because not only are we where we are because of it but it is where we first got support since I started the business on a Twitter page.

How many people do you employ?

I have employed someone to help me with admin and other smaller duties.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

I have been thinking about launching the business officially and having a stable location.

This will better my chances of expanding in the near future and actually employing more people.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I tried to get funding through some channels but I was unfortunate so I decided to fund it myself.

I used up money I had been saving to pay my fees to actually get things started, it wasn’t much but I was able to get a couple of things I needed.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

I have learnt that in this industry you can’t afford to slack. The most important thing you can do is always deliver and also consistency is key.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?

One of my biggest challenges has been access to resources. I’m not going to lie, it’s really a struggle getting certain things locally.

However, it’s also an advantage that locally we don’t have much competitive behaviour.

What do you believe are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

  1. You must always look at the bigger picture.
  2. Know what you are more passionate about.
  3. You must have a good work ethic.

What do you believe are the key traits of a successful employer?

What I have learnt in the past couple of months is that in any working relationship communication is important.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

Working with people in general is not a walk in the park, especially when it has to do with their image, so there’s basically a lot of pressure to deliver.

We don’t have a 9-5 day, if you want to survive in this industry you need to understand that it requires dedication, patience and passion, because it takes up so much of your time.

For some it may be a job but to people like me it’s part of my identity.

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