Resourcefulness is a key trait needed by most entrepreneurs, and in the case of Gwendolyne Gosselin, founder of Mathilde & Co., that translated into learning how to sew. Today her unique brand of children’s clothing and toys, all made from Shweshwe fabrics, is winning fans at home and abroad. Importantly, it is also helping to change lives closer to home in her local community.
What does your company do?
We make high quality shweshwe toys and clothing for babies, children and adults. It’s a woman empowerment project based in small rural village in the Klein Karoo where work is scarce.
What inspired you to start your company?
After travelling the world as an adventure tour guide, and with not a creative bone in my body, I moved to a funky little town called Barrydale located in the Klein Karoo and had a lovely baby girl. I was given a baby sleeping bag for Christmas and became so fond of it that I decided I had to make more of these for the South African market. Only one problem, I had never touched a needle in my life. But living out in the sticks teaches one to become resourceful – that’s how, in 2010 with an old vintage sewing machine and R200 worth of fabrics I started Mathilde & Co. I taught myself how to sew and made some lovely colourful bags of my own. One thing lead to another and 4 years later, I now provide part time work for 5 ladies in a small community where fruit picking and house cleaning are the main options.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Here in South Africa, and especially in rural SA, you’re in the real. Our little girls play rough and get dirty. So what did we do? We came up with this picture perfect girly girl dress made out of our trademark Shweshwe: a strong, durable, beautiful fabric that you can wash over and over again. Now princesses can be princesses and still play rough in their pretty dresses. And so it went, and we made cushions, bags, bunting, cards, headbands, more dresses, trousers, more dresses all in Shweshwe and far from the traditional cuts and shapes: you could say our collection is based on Classic Western lines in Modern African colours, which we believe reflects our colourful, multicultural nation.
Tell us a little about your team
I now have 5 fabulous ladies working with me: Geraldine, who is deaf ( but a real chatterbox!!) studied needlecraft and now makes all our little animals, cushions and bags. She is incredibly motivated and always wears a smile to work. We have Petula, an absolute genius - she makes all our clothes! And also a retired professional seamstress from Germany who helps us when we get flooded with orders. Nettie and Ilze stuff the little animals and stitch them closed. They have now also become sales women in our newly opened shop, so, the sky is the limit!
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
Not at all - I studied event management and communications and this just happened. With a LOT of hard work and lots of learning through trial and error, what started off as a bit of experimental sewing for my children and friends just went from one thing to the next and now with a team of ladies helping me I am more motivated than ever to make them proud and successful. My greatest reward yet is my seamstress Geraldine naming her newborn girl after me!
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
We are working on a huge contract with a big retail company that would take us to a whole new level. It is quite scary as we are based in a small community and skilled staff are hard to find. But people are willing to learn and believe in us - so there is room for growth. Our clothes appeal to the South African public from all walks of life, and our toys are loved by the tourists looking for something small and very local to take home - so we're got our markets sorted!
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Being my own boss, and having a certain flexibility. Although that comes with its share of stress and having to work at all hours of the day, while raising two beautiful girls and finding time for myself!!
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
If you believe in your idea and you've done the research, do it. But don't expect it to happen over night and don't give up when times are tough, because they will be. It may sound as a cliche, but believe in yourself and never give up, it will happen.
Source: Lionesses of Africa