Carving a niche from a hobby

Carving a niche from a hobby

MASERU – From a hobby, ’Maphoka Ramohanoe carved a niche, a glittering one too.
As a high school student, Ramohanoe took to creating her own jewellery from beads, a hobby she became hooked on but never envisioned it as a career path.

At university, she studied Information Technology. But what pays her bills today is the craft she learnt while at high school.
“I didn’t really see my hobby as a business,” says the 34 year-old.
Hopes of finding a job vanished as hundreds of CVs posted to potential employers and visits to offices yielded no work.

Struck by the reality of joblessness in 2014, she turned her hobby into a business.
Ramohanoe had done it before at school, although on a small scale.
After high school Ramohanoe enjoyed creating her own jewellery from beads but it was only in tertiary school that she took time to add more creativity to her pieces.

This attracted attention from fellow students and eventually lecturers who “would ask me where I bought my jewellery sets. I would disclose that I created them myself”. “They would either buy the sets that I had on or ask me to make them their own sets,” Ramohanoe says.

“But it was still at a small-scale at that time. It was just something I loved doing that allowed me to make extra cash,” she says.
That was until unemployment hit hard in 2014. She started researching about how she could create her own unique selling point and workshops hosted by the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) came in handy.

The following year some customers asked if she could include some traditional items in her designs.
“My sets were purely made of beads at that time. I had to think deeply about this new demand that my clients were making,” RaRamohanoe says.
“After a lot of thinking and experimenting I had an idea to use the Seshoeshoe cloth in my designs and after a few experiments clients liked the new sets,” she says.

Because of her distinctive work she became part of the delegation that attended Source Africa with the aid of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC).

She attributes the growth of her business to the event, saying it opened “a lot of doors” for her.
“Several people showed interest in my work and I was able to make contacts, one of whom became my mentor,” she says.
The mentor is Thabo Makhetha, the renowned Mosotho fashion designer whose work is a hit overseas.

Makhetha stayed in touch and eventually became Ramohanoe’s guide.
“I also met Saloshnie Naaido of SkylerT, a De Beers Zimele initiative, in South Africa. She ordered my sets for her store and also took some of them on her international trips and sold them for me,” Ramohanoe says.

Little did she know that she would not only sell her work internationally but would also promote her sets in South Africa.
In 2016 SkylerT, as Miss Commonwealth Jewellery sponsor, asked her to design a piece for Miss Commonwealth.

She also secured partnerships with the likes of Pulido in Johannesburg and Collectables shop at Pioneer Mall to sell and display her sets.
Last year, through another contact whom she met during Source Africa, she collaborated with Shweshwe Kini active wear for the Nelson Mandela Bay fashion show in Port Elizabeth.

“The pieces I showcased there were sold out at the spot. I did not return home with a single set,” she says.
She was later invited to showcase her work at the local Maseru fashion week.
Ramohanoe is currently working on pieces that have been requested by a client in Benin.
Though her work is becoming popular and attracting international clients, the journey ahead is still a long one for Ramohanoe, who wants to own a jewellery brand and ultimately a factory.

“I never thought I would make a living out of my hobby. Even those around me mocked me and discouraged me from pursuing my hobby,” she says.
“They all thought that I didn’t try hard enough to get a job and they thought focusing on my hobby was a waste of time,” she says.

“However, now more than ever before I want to see my hobby become bigger than what it is today. It is now my dream to own a studio and a factory that will produce both exclusive and inclusive pieces that will be sold all over the world.”
Ramohanoe says her journey has so far been full of ups and downs.

“I only registered my business in 2016. All this time I was spoiling myself with the money I was making. That affected the growth of my business,” she says.

This is because she usually spent all the money and did not save or keep some to buy stock.
“I entered into business by default. It was a way out and therefore I made a lot of mistakes but I have since learned a lot.”
She says one of the biggest challenges her business is facing is exporting her pieces to international clients.

“This is the biggest obstacle for me. In some cases I did not get paid by clients because the sets arrived way behind schedule,” she says.
“On the other hand, the available shipping methods are expensive such that sometimes the shipping ends up being more expensive than the pieces I export.”

She tried several institutions for assistance with this exporting issue but she is yet to find one that will deliver or avail items on time for clients.
She says as a designer another major challenge is protecting her work from industry copycats who most of the times try to replicate her pieces but fall short.

“They are in a way compromising my work because now some people find it difficult to distinguish between my pieces and their fake ones. I am still working on a logo and branding.” Ramohanoe is among the few that were able to turn her lemons into lemonade.
She says the most expensive piece she sold was for M2 500 and her cheapest piece was M140.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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