Virginia Makhubela, who is from Alexandra in Johannesburg, eventually wants to supply bags to Africa, even though she is starting off small.
She especially loves designing backpacks.
Makhubela is the founder of Harhi, and she was inspired by this craft almost by accident.
“I went to Mpumalanga last year, and I happened to come across a factory and saw the material they make,” she said.
“I bought the material because I liked it so much and came back with it. However, I did not know what to do with the material, so I set myself the task of brainstorming possible ideas.”
She found backpacks appealing because of the nature of the fabric and for someone who could help her with the sewing. Even though she bought the material last year, she only started producing the backpacks this year.
“During the lockdown I did my market research and registered my company. I started selling the bags in October.”
When Makhubela was at college, she used to work with fashion students.
“I just loved what they were doing; it never occurred to me then that I would also want to get into fashion on my own. Somehow, while I was helping the students organise fashion shows on campus, I got to learn about the business side of fashion, and sewing, and I enjoyed seeing them working on projects and that’s how the fashion bug bit me.”
She went back home, took one look at her material and decided that she was going to make backpacks.
Makhubela studied sound engineering and did a one-year course in career advice before pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Marketing.
She funds her business from her own pockets, and sources locally produced material.
“It’s very hard to do business without funding, but I told myself that I wanted to see how far the business could grow on my own before I approach the government for funding,” she said.
Also, Harhi has a special meaning for her.
“Harhi is what women use when they go fetch water and wood in the rural areas,” she said.
“The arhi is used to create comfort and also to ensure that the women do not get hurt from carrying heavy wood on their heads.,” she said.
“The whole story behind Harhi is to create comfort for anyone that uses the bag, and that is what we strive to achieve: comfortable and beautifully-styled quality.”
So far Makhubela has sold ten bags.
“My dream is to see Harhi on the backs of people from Bryanston to Brazzaville, Soweto to Sudan and from the streets of Johannesburg to the streets of Egypt,” she gushed.
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