In the latest episode of Inside Africa, CNN International explores creativity and entrepreneurship in South Africa, meeting established names including celebrated jewellery designer Kirsten Goss and milliner Crystal Birch to find out what it takes to be successful in the region.
Cape Town is brimming with creativity and entrepreneurship and yet, only around 20 per cent of South African businesses are female-owned. Kristen Goss is an inspiring figure in Cape Town, her commitment to fostering female entrepreneurship and promoting creativity has made a lasting impact, making the city a hub of innovation and empowering women to thrive in the business world.
Goss launched one of South Africa’s first major women-owned jewellery brands over twenty years ago, just before graduating from the University of Stellenbosch with a degree in jewellery design.
Goss explains how her first professional experience was invaluable, “It was a really great learning curve to understand the difference between pontificating over one brooch for three months, and working in the real world. What you’re actually doing in a career move is almost irrelevant if you don’t have the business side sewn up.”
Having always been drawn to jewellery, Goss has established a successful business which still has the love of design at its core. “There’s a subtlety with jewellery as opposed to fashion or other parts of the fashion industry. There’s obviously an intrinsic value with jewellery that you don’t necessarily have in other parts of the fashion world, and I love the fact that you can pour your heart and soul into something that has longevity and value,” she says.
Crystal Birch highlights her sense of fulfilment and pride in observing people enjoying her creations, “If I see people walking around with my hat and then I comment saying, ‘What an amazing hat’, they’ll be like, ‘Thank you. It’s Crystal Birch.’ But they wouldn’t know that’s me. That’s a lovely feeling, to bump into people wearing them.”
Birch sees herself as a guardian of fading millinery tradition in South Africa, and after taking over the factory previously owned by her mentor Harry Faktor, her predominantly female team started again from scratch. Her latest trans-seasonal collection aims to address and justify why each hat is designed and for what purpose. “We really know where we are, who’s our market,” she says.
The ‘When We See Us’ exhibition at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa celebrates the complexity of the Black experience by bringing together artworks from the last century. It resonates with entrepreneur Zahira Asmal who grew up in apartheid South Africa. Today, Asmal is working with government organisations to preserve her neighbourhood Bo-Kaap’s identity in the city. Formerly called the Malay Quarter, where slaves from Asia and other parts of Africa settled in the 18th century, Bo-Kaap is now becoming a gentrified neighbourhood.
An example of Asmal’s work making South African cities more integrated and inclusive can be seen in Cape Town. ‘Cultivate’ is a wine company set up in 2020 with the aim of empowering all aspects of the South African Black Wine industry, from producers to sommeliers. “I learned through my urban work that Black people had been making wine in the Cape for 300 years. They’ve just never been centered in the story. When I brought that to Cultivate, a lot of young Black people were like, “I belong. Why did I feel like I was always crawling through? I belong here because my ancestors were here before me,” Asmal says.
According to Sommelier Lennox Nyengera, “Cultivate is probably the first initiative focusing on uplifting Black people in the wine industry.”
A serial entrepreneur, Asmal shares what she believes it takes to establish a successful business, “Tenacity. You have to be tenacious. You must not accept no for an answer. I often when I receive no as an answer, I say, “Why?” Because even if you don’t get it, if it’s not going to advance, it may advance another time.”
At the south-westerly point of South Africa – where the Atlantic meets the Indian ocean – wild food forager Roushanna Gray found the makings of a successful business. Gray founded her company ‘Veld and Sea’ in 2017 to share her love of the edible landscape. Veld and Sea run interactive and immersive educational workshops, where guests explore nature by foraging and cooking local ingredients in nature.
Now with a team of ten full-time staff, Gray is very proud of the progress Veld and Sea has made. “When I first started [the business], a lot of people thought I was completely crazy. “How can you make money teaching people how to eat weeds?” But over time, perceptions have shifted and changed slightly, and of course after lockdown, a lot of these outdoor experiences focusing on nutrition, food and health and wellbeing are being highlighted and are coming to the fore.”
She concludes by offering advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, “My advice out is to remember, success is when passion meets purpose. Find out what makes you truly happy and go for that.”
‘Inside Africa’ airs on Sunday 2nd July 2023 at 12:30 SAST on CNN International