Q&A with Nozipho Zulu: ZuluGal Retro

1. Looking back on your time as one of the chosen Social Entrepreneurs to attend and be mentored through the Red Bull Amapihko programme, how has Zulu Gal Retro grown since then?

ZuluGal Retro has grown exponentially since being mentored through the Amaphiko programme. I have been able to grow the ZuluGal Retro brand by firstly establishing my company identity, with the assistance of the network I have access to and the help I received to design my company logo and create a company profile. I was assisted by the Red Bull Amaphiko team to attend the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Show in Johannesburg, and I utilized this business trip to meet with the following potential clients: Tourvest, Nestle South Africa, The Rug Store, Zazen SA & Kim Sacks Gallery. I am currently in communication with Tourvest Destination Retail as they are keen to place wholesale orders of our range. The constant feedback I received in terms of product development allowed me to expand my range until I reached a point where I designed upcycled backpacks. Advice and support from my mentor and the Red Bull Team has helped me to grow as an individual. I am now more comfortable with approaching potential clients to tell them about ZuluGal Retro. This has really improved my communication skills and my confidence. I utilized these communication skills to establish relationships with the CSRI Department and Afripack Company in Durban. After these negotiations ZuluGal Retro was given access to 40 kilograms of upcyclable BOPP material. This was a major breakthrough as it solved our problem of access to bulk recyclable materials. I was further thrilled when my application for participation at the 2018 Santa Fe Folk Art Market was successful, as exposure at this prestigious international platform will be a great growth opportunity for ZuluGal Retro. My biggest high this year was the nomination I received for the 2018 Inco Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, I did not win the award during the pitch competition but it was an honor to have been nominated when my business was just 2 years old. ZuluGal Retro is also one of the 5 finalists for the Eco-Logic Awards 2018 under the Recycling and Waste Management Category.

2. Which of your personal skills would you say has helped you the most to establish your project? Which skills acquired during the Amaphiko Programme have done this?

My communication skills are my greatest personal asset. I developed digital marketing skills during the Amaphiko Programme and this has helped me to grow my business exponentially.

3. After the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, how have you used the tools that you received at the academy to grow your business?

I am more confident when it comes to delivering an elevator pitch and with speaking to potential investors and clients. I use digital skills to market our product range on Instagram, Facebook, HelloPretty, Shopify and Mailchimp.


4. How does Zulu Gal Retro empower and give back to the communities of Inanda and Ntuzuma townships?

ZuluGal Retro has been working with differently abled crafters residing in Inanda, Newlands and Ntuzuma townships in KwaZulu-Natal and they produce our range of bespoke South African purses, cellphone pouches and handbags.

5. What is the process of creating your products? (Please explain the process from gathering the material to be upcycled to manufacturing the bags)

Firstly, I gather the laminated upcycled packaging and we cut this into rectangular shapes with specific dimensions. We then use one of two measurements, depending on the type of bag to be produced. The rectangles are folded and woven into long strips, the length is once again determined by the size of the bag. After weaving sufficient number of strips, these are stitched together into rows to form the outer shell of the bag. On the side, we cut out fabric panels into specific sizes and shapes to be used as inner fabric lining inside the bags. The fabric lining is assembled on a sewing machine and the zip and newly designed fabric labels are also attached to the lining at this point. When the lining is complete, it is hand sewn into the recycled woven part of the bag. Once the partially complete bag has a fully functioning zip and is nicely lined with fabric inside, the base of the bag has to be sealed. The laminated upcycled packaging is cut into square sizes, these woven and stitched to seal the base of the bag. The final touches include trimming the zip to match the final size of the bag. This method enables us to produce coin purses and cosmetic bags, bigger items such as sling bags and backpacks are produced in a rather complex method, which includes inserting leather strap handles and metal straps.

What does the future hold for Zulu Gal Retro?
We plan to expand to other townships in Durban and beyond the borders of KwaZulu Natal. In order to remain sustainable, we are exploring different marketing platforms to increase our clientele base and generate wholesale and retail sales. Our product range will increase to incorporate visual art products. In May this year, we will be exhibiting at the Decorex trade show in Cape Town.

Nozipho bag

6. How was Zulu Gal Retro selected for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market?

I submitted an application via their online platform, and they loved the products we create.

7. What are the products will you be selling and exhibiting at the market?

Traditional and modern Zulu beadwork as well as the beaded sunglasses that I design.

8. How does Zulu Gal retro receive funds to grow the business?

To upskill our crafters, we obtained small funding grants from the National Arts Council of South Africa. Now that we have registered an NGO wing of ZuluGal Retro, we will be able access more funding from government departments such as the National Lottery Distribution Fund.

9. How can people or companies get involved with sponsoring or funding Zulu Gal Retro?

They can either opt to provide us with financial support, access to bigger bulks of materials or by assisting us to reach broader marketing platforms locally and internationally. We are also open to partnering with cooperates wanting to source responsibly produced gifts as a way of supporting our socio-economic and environmentally centered enterprise.

About Nozipho Zulu

Nozipho Zulu is a Durban-based artist and designer who is economically empowering disabled people to be self-sufficient through her business that produces authentic and functional bags and aesthetic items of various kinds from recycled plastic.

Nozipho Zulu, 31, was born and raised in Nongoma in Zululand, and is the entrepreneur behind Zulugal Retro, an SMME which, after just a year of business provides jobs for a team of 10 intellectually disabled people.

Nozipho trained her team in weaving and they now work from their homes around the province, producing creative handbags, pencil cases and protective pouches for sunglasses out of industrial laminated plastic waste, such as chip and chocolate packets. She trained a group of young people who had intellectual disabilities at Inanda Special School, and they are among those who now work from their homes creating and producing beautiful items, for which she pays them.

Nozipho matriculated at King Bhekuzulu High School, Nongoma, in 2003 and went on to study a Bachelor of Technology in Fine Art at the Durban University of Technology.

Her first job was as an intern for Art for Humanity and she went on to run art therapy classes for child tuberculosis patients at King George V Hospital on behalf of the KZN Society of the Arts.

Her next role was with the African Arts Centre where she worked as community arts and crafts development officer and assistant director, which involved facilitating arts and crafts to help creatives earn an income.

In 2015, Zulu was one of 40 South Africans to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She travelled to the US to study at the University of Texas, Austin, and attended a three-day presidential summit hosted by former US president Barack Obama where she interacted with leaders in business, government and the non-profit sector.

“I studied entrepreneurship. Among the skills I learned included how to run a social entrepreneurship enterprise and they taught us how to write proposals for grant funding,” she says.

But it was when she visited the Ten Thousand Villages, Fair Trade store that she had an epiphany regarding the future of environmentally friendly arts and crafts.

“What really inspired me was that they buy from different producers across the world, but you have to be a producer working with natural or recycled materials. For example, if you are cutting down a tree, are you growing one back to replace it? When I walked into the store, I was mesmerised. I couldn’t get over the product range they had and I could see this was the future where we were heading.”

“In South Africa, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, a lot of craftsmen are doing beadwork, but the glass beads we use are imported from Czechoslovakia and that is not contributing to reducing the carbon footprint,” she said.

“I remembered that when I was still a student, there were street vendors who were waste pickers and they used to sell this waste (industrial offcuts of laminated plastic) and I didn’t know how to use it.

“As kids, we used to make rings and bracelets with chocolate eclair wrappers. I researched on the internet to see if anyone was doing it, but found there was no one in Africa or in South Africa using laminated food packaging.”

Zulu started a small pilot project in 2016 and quit her job in March last year to set up her small business. She went on to win a place at the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy where she received training in branding and marketing and she has had the support of InvoTech in Durban.

“One of the benefits of being an alumni from the Mandela Washington Fellowship was that I got funded by US Aid which helped me get started and I was able to run the project and train a group of young people who had intellectual disabilities at Inanda Special School.”

Zulu trained young people who had finished school but were sitting at home with their caregivers, they make the outer shell of the bags and she pays them for whatever they have done.

Zulu sells the products at the I Heart Market in Durban, the KZNSA Gallery and Gaze Art Gallery in Ramsgate.

Within the next five years Zulu anticipates setting up a production facility where crafters can work but she will continue to accommodate those who work from home.

Nozipho hopes to have a multi-disciplinary business where her team recycles materials, uses natural materials and takes care of the environment while giving people back their dignity. At the core of this is her belief that this is how she should be using arts and crafts for a purpose.