“Claire contacted me about buying the piece and refused to pay the R200 price tag, insisting my price was too low,” recalls Ndugane. When they met, they immediately hit it off and a supportive Mawisa encouraged Ndugane to follow her talent. “It was surreal having this woman I’d watched on TV tell me I had a gift and could do this professionally something no-one had ever said to me before. She offered to help me if I wanted it.”
Mawisa’s validation of her talents sparked a new passion in Ndugane. “I shifted my thinking, finally realising that whether or not this made me any money, I needed to do it. I stopped fighting myself, and my creativity flourished.” She quit law school for good and focused on her online business full-time. Ndugane began small, supplying items to a select number of local boutiques that were compatible with her style. “I concentrated on creating bespoke pieces, as women love looking unique, and I wanted to give them something special to wear,” she says.
Two great pieces of exposure really helped her business: first having Mawisa appear in DESTINY (Claire on Cue, October 2011) wearing one of her necklaces and then in 2012, just after she’d launched her men’s range, having items from it modelled by rugby players on SABC3’s Top Billing. “The sense of accomplishment I felt at seeing my necklace in DESTINY was amazing. And after the Top Billing insert, business really took off. I started getting orders from neighbouring countries like Botswana,” recalls Ndugane.
Despite a steady online presence, she realised she needed a store and was further inspired by her husband, former Springbok rugby player, Akona. “While preparing to launch my shop, he was my biggest cheerleader. Six months before we opened, I’d still be up at 3am making jewellery and he’d stay up with me or come and sleep in the office to be with me. I’d be crying, wondering if I was doing the right thing, but Akona would tell me how amazing it would all be.”
Armed with a vision to create something special, she finally opened the doors of Butter Jewellery in June this year. It’s an elegant space filled with sparkling, colourful pieces of exquisitely designed items. “I’d been saving for almost five years, so I funded the business with my own money, which was risky but it was important to me to do it without external help. I spent most of the capital on buying materials for my stock and creating the right atmosphere. I paid a lot of attention to details in the décor, ensuring the wallpaper and furniture were perfect,” she says.
Initially, Ndugane sold just five to 10 pieces a month. Now, with her online store and Butter Jewellery, those numbers have increased to 30-80 pieces a month. She’s also hired and trained two women to assist her with beading, as her bespoke items can take anything from three hours to a week to complete.
Ngudane also supplies items to a number of stores in London, Berlin and several other online sites, including Runway and SA Fashion, and she’s extremely proud to have her designs stocked by upmarket Elegance Jewellers in Melrose Arch. “They saw a necklace I’d made for Lebo Mashile and asked me to give them some designs. I’d love to work with precious materials like diamonds and gold, so I’m hoping to learn that as well.”
She’s still involved with design work, despite having her hands full with the business aspect – and she’s about to get busier still. “I’ve registered to go back to a tertiary institution to study further, as I’m mainly self-taught with my jewellery design, having done only a few courses in it. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I believe I could be a role model for young people who want to get into industries like this, so I can’t stop halfway,” she says.
Source: Destiny Connect