This week we are proud to feature a business that proves caring can also be profitable. In 2002 MES (Mould Empower Serve), ABSA and Primedia came up with the concept of recycling billboards into stylish, fashionable bags.
The project was originally managed purely as a non-profit, but in 2011 Bernard Swanepoel from To The Point Growth Specialists and his daughter, Juanita van der Merwe, took on the challenge of turning a charity into a sustainable (and profitable) business.
Juanita has since been managing Little Green Number, and she’s been making big waves on the South African social business scene. We had a chat with her about social business practices and the challenges she faces.
1. You say you follow “social business practices”. What does this mean and why is it important?
For us it means that you do not only do good business, but you do good through business practices. We believe in a triple bottom line – People, Planet and Profit. We create sustainable jobs, upcycle products that are hazardous to the environment, promote education through our Buy1Give1 philosophy, and believe to be sustainable we have to make a profit.
2. What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing female entrepreneurs?
I can only speak for myself, so I would say as a woman my biggest challenge in business is managing my business and family at the same time. I am a working mother, and as much as my son is my baby, my business is also my baby and both need equal amounts of attention. Society dictates that you can be either a successful businesswoman or a great mom, and there is pressure from both sides to perform. I believe both are vital to our society and that it is possible to teach my kids valuable life lessons through my business; but at the same time, I do believe it is important for businesses to realise we are human beings and we have families at home that need and deserve our time and attention. We live in a world that is driven by the bottom line and often our families suffer the most. I think we can have the best of both worlds, because by investing in our families, we are investing in our future generations and raising them to be world-changers.
3. What advice do you have for young people who want to start their own business?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Many times we do not risk because we fear failure. Failure is not the end if you choose to fail forward! Surround yourself with like-minded people and get a mentor who can help you sort through your ideas in your head.
Little Green Number turns billboards into everything from handbags and MacBook sleeves to travel bags, school bags and pencil cases. You can reach them online at www.littlegreennumber.com, at their factory in Bryanston, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and at most big expo’s.