By: Phumzile Ngcatshe
Lerato Makhisa is the stylish and influential figure behind one of the most successful shoe manufacturing companies in the Southern African region.
Based in Bloemfontein in the Free State province, the brainy Chief Executive Officer of Ribbons Collection reveals that the company was once a beauty salon.
Makhisa exclusively sat down with Motimagz Magazine and shared her journey as they have been in business for close to a decade.
The young business lady also speaks about their ever-growing clientele and their partnership with African Market as she also eyes doing business in the global space.
Briefly tell me how did Ribbons Collection come about and please share your journey so far?
Well, I’m coming to be brief because talking about Ribbons Collection and its journey could take us the whole day. Ribbons Collection is registered as Ribbons General Trading and has been in operation for about seven years.
We were once a beauty salon and it failed, then we sold clothes and accessories that we would order from abroad until 2020 when we had to close down because of lockdown. That’s when I started Ribbons Collection and ventured into the manufacturing of handcrafted leather shoes for men.
I’m happy to say that we have penetrated the African Market and I’m also pleased to say there are a number of companies that are eager to do business with us not only in Africa but globally.
As the CEO and the founder of this unique and ever-growing brand, why did you opt to venture into this kind of business?
Passion and love for fashion especially the leather shoe industry. Fashion has always been my biggest love and passion.
All I ever wanted to do even growing up has always been business in the fashion industry. I have never dreamed of anything but being a businesswoman.
Looking at your background, you are an image consultant, how did that play a rolein establishing this company?
It was not that difficult because this is similar to what I have always been doing all these years. The difference now is I’m no longer in clothing but shoe manufacturing. I still get to do one-on-one with customers who seek my services and advice
Did you study anything related to business or it was just through your passion for fashion?
It was just through passion and love. I’m currently on a short business course with a private college so that I can further my knowledge and skills in the business and manufacturing industry. We do not only cater to local clients but international. For now, we are working closely with Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland and soon we will be able to cater globally. We are working on our import and export certificates.
What other products do you offer apart from shoes?
Yes, we do offer belts for individual purchases and also supply retail stores with their own branded belts. We will add more accessories soon.
How long have you been in the market and what has been the response from your clientele please share any challenges you encountered along the way.
For this type of business, I’ve been for two years and I must say customers are responding well even though at times we struggle to meet the deadline because of some unforeseen circumstances but then we are trying so hard to meet each and every customers’ desire.
Owning an online store is the biggest challenge on its own, it’s so tricky because you’re dealing with people you don’t even know or can’t even see and you constantly have to prove yourself that you’re legit. But as a business owner, you always try to come up with solutions and an easier way to make sure your customers trust your brand and are happy with the products.
Let’s talk about the future; where do you see yourself in the next five years. Perhaps beyond South African borders?
Yes definitely behind the borders! The main thing is creating employment for women and young people of South Africa.
We want to contribute to the economy of South Africa and decrease the number of unemployed. We want to educate and transfer skills to young people. A message I would give youth is: Giving up is not an option, let’s stand together and make a difference.
How did the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic impact your business? Did you have to cut down your staff or you were at an advantage hence you operate online?
It affected my previous business hence I had to close it but it also gave me an opportunity to venture into something new. So they are good highlights behind the pandemic. It’s true when they say some storms come to disrupt but some come to push us further to our goals.
How many do you employ in your team and how does it feel to provide such opportunities for locals?
We are still a very small business so we are about four. I’m hoping to employ more towards the end of the year.