Monday, March 4, 2024

Recrafted during Covid 19: Meet Mari Ella

Make no mistake, Mari Ella is a name of a company, not of a human being. But of course, companies are legally and generally regarded as equals to natural persons – corporate personhood. Mari Ella is a Gaborone based company that manufacturers handcrafted items.

Each piece of handcrafted jewelry evolves into a statement piece that commands attention and confidence also displayed by its founder Micaela van der Westhuizen (26).

Mari Ella was crafted during the first Covid-19 lockdown when almost everyone was looking for something to occupy their time with. Micaela recalls that she was reluctant to start the craft because it all seemed too good to be true, but after she got over her fear she took a leap of faith. Now she believes it was the best decision she ever made. At the moment her company only designs and handcrafts polymer clay earrings from her kitchen. The products then  reach her customers countrywide through deliveries and couriers service.

Micaela tells Sunday Standard that she has always been a creative person. “I sold my first pieces of jewelry to my mum when I was 10 years old and she still treasures them till today. I loved Art in high school and every time I see something that I think is beautiful I try and recreate it with my own spin and what better spin than earrings,” she says.

She adds that when she started in 2020 there weren’t a lot of competition but as the years have gone by there’s a lot more polymer clay artists sharing their work. 

Micaela shares that the business is both capital and labour intensive.

“It takes a lot of capital to get your small business off the ground. I do all of the labour at the moment mainly because we’re still growing and because the quality control of the finished product is my main concern,” she adds.

She says some of the challenges that come with running this business are the availability of raw materials. She has to order everything outside the country because they’re not available here. 

Covid-19 also affected her operations drastically. “Jewelry and earrings are a luxury. You don’t need to buy earrings every month so that really did put a damper on sales,” she notes. 

What she loves about her business is firstly, the creating. “I absolutely love it. When I finish a pair I sit back in awe that I’ve just designed and made this with my own hands.”

She says the sort of skills one needs to make this business a success is dedication and perseverance. Adding that if it’s not something that you absolutely love it’s hard to jump over hurdles that come with building it. 

Micaela studied psychology in Cyprus but soon found out it wasn’t for her and she came back home. She then became a swimming instructor for two years while her business was getting off the ground but later quit to focus all her energy on Mari Ella. 

In the meantime, Micaela is in the process of applying for funding to expand the Mari Ella brand to include some exciting new handmade products. This is because she started the business from pocket savings and through the support of her husband. She says that her wish is for the government and private sector to change their hesitance to back a product that is unique in the market.

“Our craft and designers need the backing of government that we may have the opportunity to excel in our market. The small business sector is dependent on funding to grow.” She says this can improve the nature of their business in Botswana.

Micaela says they are in talks with a few local stores to house their products. She says as the year progresses and Mari Ella grows she wants to be able to have workshops that include learning how to make all their handmade products. 

As much as she recognizes and appreciates what the financial institutions are doing, she feels that at times the approach is very demoralizing to start-up businesses in the craft sector due to the fact that their businesses are deemed unsustainable. 

For more on Mari Ella products and pricing visit their Instagram page: @_mari_ellaa and Facebook page: Mari Ellaa.


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