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Traditional And Thriving

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When Rina Chunga-Kutama started her business, she was just trying to make some extra money while studying. Since then, her African brand, Rich Factory, known for its distinctive Zambian prints, has grown in leaps and bounds.

Chunga-Kutama was born in Zambia but grew up in Botswana and lived there for 15 years. She moved to Polokwane, in the Northern Province of South Africa, in 2004. Despite this, she’s never forgotten her Zambian heritage which is evident on her clothing.

She studied fashion at LISOF in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, but started working on her business during her gap year in 2007.

“I got a job from a designer lady in Polokwane who was sewing. I learned to sew and that’s when I started making pieces for people, creating garments for pocket money,” she says.

Rich Factory Rina Chunga-Kutama

A model wears a dress made by Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Eunice Driver)

In 2008, she went to college but faced financial difficulties. Because of this, she had to alternate between going to school for a year and taking a year off. When she finally got to her third year in 2012, Chunga-Kutama still had two modules from the first year she had yet to complete and couldn’t graduate.

That did not stop the young lady from pursuing her dreams. Chunga-Kutama knew most of what she needed to start a business, and she was also not keen on being in the same class with younger students – she was 25 years old at the time – and so went straight into the working field.

“I wasn’t in school so I could do the business full-time, it was a full-time business because the clients were coming in and I was still working from home,” she says.

By 2013, it wasn’t about making pocket money anymore. She moved out of her sister’s home and rented a cottage in Melville, Johannesburg. Here, she installed mirrors and converted her home into a shop.

Chunga-Kutama has never looked back and has grown her business and worked with celebrities, like award-winning South African musician Zahara, actress Terry Pheto, and actress and model Nomzamo Mbatha.

READ MORE: Fashion Bloggers Signing Off In Style

Chunga-Kutama made an impression on Mbatha when they met at a shoot in 2015.

“I remember they had this girl [from] Rich Factory and she was doing the styling. The stuff that she had pulled for me was just so apt. Working with someone I’ve never met before, they knew exactly how to style me for that campaign according to my personality and body. Everything fit really well and I loved how funky and how out-of-the-box her thinking was when it came to styling and I just enjoyed her as a person,” says Mbatha.

After the shoot, a friendship was sparked and the two decided to collaborate. Rich Factory was now dressing Mbatha for red carpets locally and internationally, such as BET’s Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony in New Orleans, United States, the MTV Europe Music Awards in the Netherlands, and the Cinema Camp Film Festival, among others.

“The Camp Film Festival was a huge footprint for us because everyone was in their beautiful ball gowns and here’s this yellow, African, kente print walking the red carpet and everyone was having a moment,” Mbatha recalls.

Rina Chunga-Kutama Rich Factory

Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Although it is not something that Chunga-Kutama pursued, Rich Factory garnered business and free publicity from dressing celebrities.

Rich Factory has gained attention from its celebrity clients but has become more strategic about taking on famous clients. Chunga-Kutama doesn’t want it to be seen as a celebrity business and alienate other clients without the buying power.

Her first celebrity client was musician and TV personality, Nomuzi Mabena. Chunga-Kutama met her in 2011 while working as an intern for well-known South African fashion designer Khosi Nkosi. Mabena came second in a model search competition that Chunga-Kutama was styling. A few years later, Mabena won the role of an MTV Base video jockey and needed garments; Rich Factory was happy to assist. Mabena really helped Rich Factory take off.

“I was in the magazines and newspapers because of her,” says Chunga-Kutama.

READ MORE: Fashion in The Operation Theater?

In 2017, Rich Factory found itself walking the ramps at the South African Fashion Week (SAFW) in collaboration with Nestlé for its chocolate, Aero.

Chunga-Kutama was approached by Sunshine Shibambo from marketing and advertising agency Cheri Yase Kasi to work with the chocolate brand.

“The brand was looking for a South African designer to partner with that was expressing their positioning which was ‘let go’. Someone who is not confined by the prints or fabrics that they are working with but always finding a release in their fashion, new forms and new shapes. So she was the perfect candidate,” says Shibambo.

Rich Factory Rina Chunga-Kutama

A model wears a dress made by Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Eunice Driver)

Chunga-Kutama was never going to say no to chocolate and showing at SAFW.

According to Chunga-Kutama, the brief was perfect because she has a playful brand. She used African prints only and didn’t use any western fabrics.

The collaboration was incredible, according to Shibambo.

“The collection had a play of the Nigerian shape with a combination of geisha and Asian inspired shapes, which isn’t the normal traditional form for a designer using African print,” she says.

Chunga-Kutama has a team of five people working with her. Two are based at a factory in Johannesburg’s central business district, while Dimo Kutama, her husband and business partner, has opened a store in Parkhurst, a plush Johannesburg suburb.

Her husband used to work as a client care advisor but now runs sales and logistics at Rich Factory. It’s not an easy role.

“The only difference is time. When you’re running your own business, you never have time for anything, including a haircut,” says Dimo.

From starting in a garden cottage four years ago, Chunga-Kutama is now dressing socialites, in African fabric, around the world.

Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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