Young entrepreneur used the R350 social grant to launch a furniture business venture
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COVID-19 grants are associated with long queues at the Post Offices, and thereafter, throngs of young people rushing out as soon as they are paid to form an even longer queue outside liquor retail outlets, to only end up drunk and penniless the next day.
However, there are an equal number of grant recipients who have figured a way of using the money constructively and to help themselves eke out a living.
One such person is a young Bethlehem, Free State woman who spotted an opportunity to start a business after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government would dole out R350 per month to unemployed citizens, as a relief from unemployment and hunger during the series of lockdowns that were brought on by the pandemic.
When Maquoalesa Lekheakhoa Qwali heard the news, she decided that for her, this is the stepping stone, and the opportunity she has been dreaming about for a long time.
"I've always wanted to start a business, but I kept procrastinating and putting it off. When Mr Ramaphosa announced the R350 grant, I told myself that this was a perfect time," says the 27-year-old single mother.
Combining her love for art and meagre resources, she gravitated towards furniture making. While looking for the most effective way to start a business, she turned to YouTube to check what others were doing with their time and hands. She came across people making furniture out of tyres.
"I then went out with the R350 to buy a second-hand power drill. I then went to buy a second-hand couch stapler. I found old wooden boards at home. That was followed by clothes that I would use to cover the furniture. I went back to YouTube to watch videos," she says.
Without any formal training, Qwali set about making a couch. The results, however, were not what she had expected and thus Lady Q Designs - her label - was founded.
"I made my first one, but I was not happy with how it turned out. It didn't look like anything that I was watching on YouTube. I dismantled it and started again until it was something I was happy with," she says.
Her first satisfactory product now sits in her workshop, and she has no desire to sell it. It has, however, attracted new clients.
She then received her first order to create a two-seater couch that she calls her pride and joy and something that has put her on the map.
Qwali, who was raised by her grandparents, says being an entrepreneur has had its challenges, but she is motivated by the idea of growing her business and creating employment opportunities.
"Currently, with the money I'm making, I'm buying more equipment to grow the business. I request people to pay deposits, and I use that money to buy material," she says.
Qwali adds that she has learned that waiting for "capital" can sometimes kill a lot of dreams and that more young people need to take the leap of faith and start a business.
"We all have dreams of starting businesses, but we keep saying we need capital. It's not always the case. My capital was a R350 government grant, and when I received it, I said I don't want to see myself queuing there again. One year later, I have a business that is sustaining itself," she quips.
Regarding how she has managed to grow Lady Q Designs, she says listening to advice from other entrepreneurs has been key to her success. But, pricing has been her biggest challenge, though, through clients and mentors, she has managed to come up with competitive prices that keep clients coming back.
One such client is Masebina Ramokotjo, who bought a coffee table and says she loved the quality of work and that Qwali was disrupting a predominantly male industry. She was also happy with the pricing.
"The price was very affordable. The table I bought for R700 would have cost me at least double that at any other shop. The quality is also amazing. Supporting her was a no-brainer," says Ramokotjo.
Other services offered by the business include vehicle upholstery and furniture refurbishment.