Thobekile Mkhize
Durban - Thobekile Mkhize, an eManzimtoti entrepreneur, is taking her niche fashion brand to the world with her range of designer women’s leather handbags and belts.

Mkhize, 33, the founder of Mabotho, recently returned from the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road International Expo 2018 in China where she was among a group of local SMMEs who attended the trade show with Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal.

Mkhize grew up in Umzinto and matriculated at Scottburgh High School in 2004 before graduating with a diploma in sports science at the Durban University of Technology.

“My first real job after graduating was for Adidas South Africa, where I worked as a technical co-ordinator and that’s where I learned to develop a brand,” she said.

“I learned to develop a product from scratch and that’s when I realised that I would be able to establish my own business.”

Mkhize left Adidas in 2011 and joined Sanlam as a marketing assistant, working on branding and organising activations and events.

“I had a bug that I needed to start my own business and I took a leap of faith,” Mkhize said.

She registered Mabotho in 2013 but it was only in May last year that she left the comfort of her corporate job to start her small business, manufacturing handbags and belts. She won the award for the best black women-owned small business in the eThekwini Municipality’s SMME Business Excellence Awards in 2017 and travelled to the Essence Festival in New Orleans, where her bags sold out.

She used the R40 000 prize to buy industrial sewing machines and today her business employs three staff.

Her designs celebrate her heritage and she uses Nguni hides for her bags.

“My dad was business-minded and I inherited that. I was also inspired by my grandfather, whose Nguni cows I inherited. I was inspired by their brown-and-white patches, so I use a lot of those patterns.”

Mkhize sells her bags online via Facebook and Instagram and she supplies a boutique in London. Her vision is to distribute her bags to local retail chains and to open a boutique.

The Mercury