Harnessing the winds of change
As Batswana ardently embrace the #supportlocal (#pushabw) concept, which gained momentum amidst the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, many start-ups are hastily leveraging the power of social media to fully cash in on this trend. Voice Woman chats with two creative young ladies about their fledgling enterprises and digital experience.
26-year-old Micaela van der Westhuizen is the owner of Mari Ella – unique handmade polymer clay earrings. Polymer clay is “a type of modelling clay generally used for making arts and craft items.”
She says she returned home from Cyprus where she had been studying psychology after realising that art had always been her first love.
“I have always been a creative person. I loved art in high school and every time I see something that I think is beautiful, I try and recreate it with my own spin.”
Taking us through that critical moment when she decided to start this business, the jeweller-cum-swimming instructor says she began her small business in her kitchen after she had watched a video that inspired her creativity, thereafter sourced the initial of blocks of clay and cutters.
“I saw a video of the earrings when we first went into lockdown in March. I was so amazed at all the beautiful combinations and colours and thought to myself, ‘I would love to do this; to be able to create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces and bring joy to people with my own creations’. After I did my research – and with a lot of support from my husband – I finally ordered the first batch of polymer clay in December 2020, and I haven’t looked back since. My first few attempts were not what I expected but as I continued practising, I improved.”
As she honed her skills, she sped up to advertise digitally. “I realised that the new normal was to have a prominent online presence. At first, it was a challenge having to persistently create content to post, however, as my customer base expanded and interactions increased, it became easier to post consistently,” she says.
As the #supportlocal movement accelerates – a much needed stimulus for many startups – her earrings have been well received on social media, garnering over 300 followers across all platforms so far.
“Online marketing is very important for a new business and the exposure is great. The movement is what helped my little business get out there. We are a relatively new business therefore we don’t have a large following yet, so every post, share or like really goes a long way. Digital marketing has become one of, if not the main, form of advertising for Mari Ella and, because of that, we are looking into introducing exciting new products into our Mari Ella brand.”
The passionate creative says though she funded the business from her own pocket, she will be applying for the youth grant soon as she plans to expand the Mari Ella brand and open a Mari Ella craft shop where she’ll offer craft lessons.
She advises would-be hustlers to work hard and persevere. “It takes time, effort and a lot of hard work to get a small business off the ground. You don’t get to take days off and you put in so much only to break even. But persistence and a love for what you do will get you to places you never thought you’d reach.”
Handmade By Tish
23-year-old Thabisang Mbayi recently graduated with a BSc in Pharmacy and is in the process of preparing to work as a pharmacist. She began making statement earrings and key chains all crafted from polymer clay, tassels and brass in May 2019.
The Gaborone-born Mbayi says she self-funded this venture while still at varsity, “I used my monthly allowance to fund everything in my small business, the materials and parts I was using, the packaging and every other costs.”
She initially designed earrings for herself, as they are her favourite accessory. “It was a way for me to have a hobby that was creative. Shortly after gaining more confidence in my skill, I began selling them to other people. I would design and assemble ready-made pieces I bought online, but I started hand making everything from scratch using polymer clay in April this year, and use social media to showcase what I make and gain customers,” she explains.
Working from home, she says the inspiration behind her small business is her love for art and crafts, combined with a love for jewelry.
“I came across a store that sold jewelry making kits and I thought to myself, ‘you love jewelry, why not just start’, and though I had no prior experience, I told myself there was no harm in trying. I bought the kit and bought a notebook where I drew sketches of the type of earrings I’d start making.”
Currently with 330 followers on Instagram where she says she gets the bulk of her customers, the Serowe native hails the #supportlocal movement.
“It has been very beneficial to me. It helped boost my business as I would post my work online using this hashtag and it would reach a lot of people who were eager to buy from local businesses. So many people support, whether by liking and commenting or sharing pictures of my work so I reach a larger audience.”
Aspiring to enter the international market in the near future, Mbayi hopes to have a successful online store.
“I want to be able to process orders with this online store and deliver them to my customers with ease. My goal is to export the art I create, and see people from different countries wearing my polymer clay statement earrings and using my key chains. I would also like to be an inspiration to anyone who is interested in starting his or her own polymer clay accessories business.”
Her advice to up and coming entrepreneurs; “There will be so many setbacks and times when you doubt yourself and your craft but you need to be resilient and never give up, this is the only way you will see yourself grow.”