Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Women are calling into question what it means to be successful in a COVID-19 reality, negating notions of the next big thing and making millions to serve their communities and themselves. We talk to a few women who are redefining what it means to be successful.
My mum always told me that whatever I want is mine; I just need to take it,” says Aisha Baker. “That’s the best advice I’ve ever received.”
Baker’s name may seem familiar, given her role as one of South Africa’s first fashion bloggers well before influencers became essential to business. And it’s those words of advice that have seen her build a formidable brand that now encapsulates perhaps her most challenging venture yet: a clothing line called Baked Collection.
“For us,” she says, obliviously using the collective to illustrate this is no one-man show, “success is satisfying our customers and inspiring and providing positive energy to the women who wear our clothes.”
And it’s this success that keeps the team going despite constantly being faced with challenges, including managing cash flow. “I saved for five years before embarking on production. I wanted to self-fund the business and not start off with a loan that could place pressure on my first business, Baked Online.”
Defining Success On Their Terms
Managing cash flow is one of the main challenges facing small businesses with 50% of respondents to PayJustNow’s survey on challenges and success in business identifying it as a key concern. Yet, this has not stopped any of them from pushing ahead and defining success on their terms, far from the traditional notions that success is “the attainment of wealth, favour or eminence” or reaching the highest position in a company.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of money or resources,” says Simonne Solarsh, founder of IntrinsiCurly Me, which manufactures a range of products for curly hair.
“As a woman in business that’s driven to empower other women, I want to communicate that you can become successful — whatever that may mean to you – by being resourceful and making the most of what you have.”
For Solarsh, becoming successful meant making a difference in how people saw themselves — a motto she lives by, too. “How you perceive yourself is what you become. I believe that if you have a positive perception of yourself, you’re more likely to make magic happen and achieve your goals — just like I have.”
IntrinsiCurly Me was borne from the desperation and bias she experienced with unruly hair that could not be tamed by the available products. “Even salon professional ranges didn’t seem to work on my hair,” she laments. “I love my curls and being able to produce products that celebrated my natural texture and gave me confidence was something I had to share with the world.”
In fact, in her journey to making IntrisiCurly Me products a reality, Solarsh faced other obstacles such as “being fired” as a customer by the factory she had approached to manufacture the products. “I kept telling them what I envisioned and they were just not getting it right,” she recalls. “They were convinced it could not be done and told me to find a different factory, but I refused to start from scratch and eventually wore them down.”
Brigitte Hirsch of Tigerlilly Activewear and Alexandra Fraser of BENA Woman know these struggles all too well, too. Hirsch and Fraser’s businesses were a direct solution to a gap in the market, the former for activewear for younger children and the latter for luxurious yet classic sleep- and loungewear.
“When my daughter started ballet classes at four years old, there were no stores that sold dance or activewear along the Garden Route where we stayed. I was itching to do something creative and so Tigerlilly Dancewear (the first iteration of the business) emerged,” explains Hirsch, who says it’s this constant drive for creativity that places meaning into her notion of success.
Success Is A Journey
Fraser, whose brand BENA Woman began as a pet project to create classic, well-made pyjamas for herself and her daughter — “I fell in love with the piped, button-up PJs my omi (granny) from Barcelona was always wearing” — says that for her, success comes in many forms and has changed over the years.
“The first time I thought BENA was a success was when we began turning a profit after many years of hard work and tears. Now that we’ve ticked the profit box, success lies in being able to employ wonderful staff who can support their families on a BENA salary, having engaging meetings with my team, receiving emails from customers who are thrilled with their purchases and, most importantly, being able to bounce out of bed excited for my BENA day ahead.”
While Hirsch and Fraser created a solution to a gap within their industry, Marian Nel of Mally Bags was looking to fulfil a more personal goal — finding an outlet for the passion and drive she had as a young woman in a small Karoo town with very few career prospects. “Mally Bags essentially began as a hobby 12 years ago,” she says.
“I’ve loved handbags ever since receiving my grandmother’s vintage bags as a youngster. Since my first creation, I’ve designed a new bag for every stage of my life, including the first leather baby bag when I fell pregnant.”
Nel believes that success comes from listening to what your consumers want and then delivering on that two-fold. “Success really is a journey, not a destination. Every milestone I’ve been through with Mally Bags has allowed the business to move forward, but I could never have done it without my team who are often more suited to tackle tasks or projects that I don’t have the professional skills for.”
Karin Rae Matthee, the brilliant mind behind Dear Rae Jewellery’s intricate designs, concurs, admitting that the major driving force behind starting her own business was to create employment opportunities.
“Accepting help from others and building a team that is much better at the tasks than you are is a key element to success. The other is the courage to put a creative idea out into the world and having the determination to see it through the dark and light times.”
For Your Beauty Box owner Karonn Naidoo, the path to a successful business wasn’t nearly as lofty. “I really just needed to generate an income,” she says. However, she managed to pair that need with her passion for skincare, cultivating a following for Korean beauty (also known as K-beauty) products and a community of women motivated by a shared outlook of authenticity.
“Since that first need to start the business, success for me has become more multifaceted and now includes being able to inspire the women who shop at Your Beauty Box. I no longer believe there’s a destination called success; instead, it’s always evolving and changing. You just need to constantly be humbled by the challenges you encounter.”
Vilene Geldenhuys of boutique kids’ swimwear brand Eendjie agrees. “You can’t be afraid to fail in trying to achieve your version of success. The only way you’ll learn your business is by making mistakes.”
As these women show, prioritising human values above cold, hard cash has helped grow their presence in business — and paving the way for a new definition of what it means to be successful.