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Is it passion, art or the money that drives one to sew? Discover it with Phakama Ntsodo

Updated: May 6

When it comes to sewing, different things drive different people. Some people love the artistry that comes with fashion, others the joy of making someone feel comfortable and beautiful in their clothing and body, or simply the income that it generates.  


Phakama Pearl Ntsodo took a leap of faith when she decided to stop working her full-time job at a restaurant in 2017. She then started attending Yes We Can South Africa Foundation (YWC) Saturday sewing classes in an effort to push herself. She saw that at YWC we were creating a variety of bags. She viewed this as an opportunity to learn for herself and hopefully sell to tourists. This she claims, is a booming industry in Cape Town near where she stays in Harare, Khayelitsha. She did not want to make garments like dresses because she believed that it was a difficult business to be in. However, with an unexpected turn, she began making dresses. At the moment she creates beautiful African print garments.


Most of her customers request Xhosa African prints and through referrals, it has become a growing business. Apart from the evident beauty of the creations, one of the key factors that make her creations popular is what is described by herself as "clean work”. Her work is executed with a clean finish and flawlessly. Phakama takes great pride in this as she says that they last longer and are authentic. “I believe when I’m done, my work must be clean.” To do this, she explained that she sometimes has to stay up until late if it means that she has to deliver. For Phakama, in fashion, she derives great joy from a flawless and beautiful finish, while making her clients look beautiful. The beauty goes beyond aesthetic appreciation as these garments are often worn for celebrations of important Xhosa ceremonies such as Umgidi. Fashion, therefore, becomes an iconic symbol for representing and celebrating identity, heritage and being African. Yes, sewing and fashion afford her an income to sustain herself and her beautiful daughter and son, but it is evidently deeper than that.



These are not the only skills that Phakama has. Not only is she able to make flawless bags and traditional African garments but she can make children’s uniforms including bomber jackets, beanies and more. Her goal is to expand and sell more items. She also became one of YWC facilitators. Students love her because Phakama is very patient. If we may brag, she can also cook and bake! We love to celebrate women at YWC for their full humanity and who they are both in and outside of the organisation.


Passion and talent are important ingredients, but unfortunately, circumstances deem them not enough

 

Phakama currently works from her one-roomed home in Khayelitsha. She is not limited by her craftsmanship but rather by accessibility. Her room is very small to operate a shop. Another impediment is marketing, she exclaimed. She believes herself not to be a sociable person and there is deep fear surrounding conducting business in the township. She downheartedly explained that when criminals know that you are operating a business, they demand a “security” fee from a business owner. Failure to make this payment can get your property damaged or yourself killed. A business person should therefore keep a low profile. However, she expressed that beyond all these challenges, one must strategise on how one wants to work.  

 

Phakama also hasn’t yet formally opened her business and neither does she have a social media page. Security issues can be identified as one of the biggest impeding factors. She said however that when she does open her business, she will name it “Lilifa”. This is her daughter’s name and it was inherited from her grandmother. She proclaimed that she believes that she is gifted and that her gift is not something that she acquired along the way but something that she inherited. Her grandmother was also a seamstress and Phakama believes that she is living through her. Her daughter Lilifa also currently knows how to sew and helps her mother where she can. She and her 14-year-old daughter are very close and Phakama fully appreciates that like her, she also has dreams. Phakama always encourages her daughter to maximise her schooling potential. From woman to woman, from strength to strength.

 

Help one to help one

 

YWC facilitated in strengthening this inheritance and Phakama explained how she is grateful for how the organisation nurtured her entrepreneurial skills. Additionally, apart from referrals, she says that she gets many of her customers who see her on our YWC social media pages and website. She also makes bags for the University of Cape Town on behalf of YWC. She can make up to 100 bags per week! The drive to succeed is evident. In 2019, Phakama completed technical sewing training at the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT) that taught skills including, the principles of pattern-making, styling, taking accurate measures and more. Additionally, in 2021 at YWC we enrolled her and the other seamstresses at an advanced Business Course at Learn to Earn in Khayelitsha. At YWC we firmly believe in equipping members of the organisation with entrepreneurial skills to create longevity and sustainability for their creative and technical skills.

 

Phakama has now acquired the necessary skills and keeping up with YWC tradition, is now passing the knowledge to other students.



Where will the road of mounting challenges lead?

 

In 5 years, Phakama wishes to have her own sewing and fashion shop and a coffee shop at the same time. Remember, Phakama is not only a seamstress and designer, but she is also a cook! We suspect that her food is as good as her fashion artistry. She is also inspired by the successes and achievements of Simba Matanda Matongera, YWC tailor. YWC members never work in isolation but through a solid interconnected network of people who become family members who assist, inspire and motivate each other. Phakama concludes, “Business is not easy, but we’re still in it…I cannot quit now.” What is a world that limits talent, humanitarian and creative work because of a lack of finances? Pakama does however encourage herself and is assured by the belief that “You must wait for your time.”

 

In a South African context, when a woman is a single mother, it is tempting to wrap their hard work and identity around the difficulties of their single motherhood and thereby glamourise it. It is clear that women like Phakama aren't only driven by their love for their kids but also as a matter of following their passions, their talent inheritances, and a compassionate heart to see positive change in their communities and the world. If capital is one of the greatest impeding factors, may these attributes only find the right voices to facilitate their take-off. At Yes We Can South Africa Foundation, we are happy to be playing our part! Phakama Ntsodo can be reached at 061 465 3295.

 

 

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