Hands on, Hand-made

Leadership chats to Safia Tucker, owner of Ilundi Designs


Safia Tucker, owner of Ilundi Designs.
When it comes to quality, there can - and should - be no compromise. In the crafts and arts industry, particularly, authenticity, and integrity, are everything.

Many make claims, not all deliver. At Ilundi Designs, however, you can expect the real thing.

Safia says the business was formed in 2011, when she began very small-scale production of one or two pieces a week from the garage that she also lived in.

“I had just graduated in Fine Art and I needed a bag for myself but couldn’t find anything that I really wanted, or liked. So I made a bag for myself, and friends and family started to show interest in the product, and so the business was slowly growing from then. We handcraft genuine leather bags, belts, and accessories, and everything is hand stitched, too,” she says.

Herself and her small team operate from a studio in Salt River and Ilundi also has an upmarket outlet at the V&A Waterfront.

“The business has grown slowly over the years, but I think that’s necessary,” she says. We use absolutely no machines, and everything is done by hand. Every hole is hand punched, every stitch hand stitched.She recalls how she was searching for grant funding online and found the website for the National Youth Development Agency (Grant Programme) and decided to go and visit the Cape Town branch. The rest, as they say in the classics, is history.

“Starting out I had very little experience in the industry, and obviously very little capital, and the grant funding as well as financial mentorship I received from the Agency was crucial for growing the small business that I had at the time.“It was crucial for growth and also for just to increase my knowledge and my experience, and as soon as we received the funding we could produce a lot more goods, we could have stock on hand and we started to stock a lot more boutiques. From there our business just grew and took off,” she says. Currently Ilundi supplies about 30 boutiques, nationally and internationally.

The business currently employs five people, excluding herself, and four of them are under the age of 35.This complement is comprised of three crafters and a saleswoman, she says.

Asked what advice she has for young people wishing to pursue the entrepreneurial route, Safia says: “I think firstly perseverance is a big thing. There were many times that I wanted to give up. I was so close to quitting, but luckily I’ve been surrounded by really great people who encouraged me not to. I joined the Cape Crafts Design Institute, and surrounded myself by other young entrepreneurs and we discussed issues regarding how to move forward. That’s been very helpful, and I also think it’s vital to have a very strong financial plan in place, as well as an admin system, so that as soon as your business starts to grow everything can move forward smoothly.”

Leadership asked her what National Youth Month means to her, as a young person living and working in South Africa. “I think,” she says, that it’s a very important opportunity to reminisce on our tumultuous past and also at the same time to share our stories and motivate one another as youth, and show through example what is possible now”.

She believes it is very possible to be an effective leader, but still be gentle at the same time. “I think it’s possible to be a great leader, but still be gentle, and be able to spread your staff in such a way that they have every opportunity to do something else, so that they will stay loyal to you, because I think acquiring really great staff is a difficult thing.”

This softly-spoken, down to earth young woman is making strides in the accessories business – gentle ones. At 28, she is destined for very good things to come.

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