Saturday, May 15, 2021

When tailoring becomes the “stich” during a pandemic time

It is not every day in Botswana – and possibly the rest of the world that one can meet a trader who says they did not get much of a hit by the Covid 19 pandemic. One such trader in Botswana is Opelo Letshwiti – the founder of Lesweedy Diaries (PTY) LTD – local company that has been one of the busiest in the last 12 months.

Lesweedy trades in the textile sector with focus not just on mass production of fabric goods for distribution, wholesale and individual sales but also on imparting knowledge about the sector in question.

Towards the end of 2020 running into April 2021, Letshwiti was able to give wings to her dreams of imparting knowledge thanks largely to a six months deal signed by her company with a local Non-Governmental Organisation styled Young Africa Botswana.

The Young Africa Botswana (YAB) contract entailed introducing and equipping participants of a government social programme dubbed Tirelo Sechaba with skills in textile and clothing design particularly sewing.

Letshwiti says the YAB contract came in at a good time as she was able to continue making a living during a time when most businesses were not doing so well. 

“It has not been such a train smash as I have been able to get this contract to teach during the pandemic for six months”, the 29 year old textile curator tells Sunday Standard emphasising that contract to what other people’s experiences the Covid-19 pandemic has rather been kind to her business. 

“I am not complaining about business, maybe because I have the mental satisfaction of doing a lot of things instead of not doing anything at all”, says Letshwiti.

Apart from the YAB deal, Lesweedy Diaries (PTY) LTD was able to add a new range of clothing line into its collection. The winter collection for babies’ dubbed “Nnana” was birthed between the first and second national lockdown that was imposed in Botswana last year. When almost all the children’s shops shut doors across the country, Lesweedy took advantage of this and introduced babywear.

A woman of many hats, Letshwiti says the one she is most fond of is that of being a teacher because “Education is a very powerful tool and to teach people how to make good quality clothes is bliss, it’s personal.”

Amongst other things, Letshwiti teaches technical drawing, garment design and textile design. Her skills imparting project is already bearing fruits as the YAB cohort has already stitched more than 7000 Covid 19 masks which they then donated to communities within and around the capital Gaborone.

As part of her growth plan, Letshwiti has joined a cluster that was recently set up by a group of local women that are also into textile. The cluster seeks to explore opportunities availed by the African Growth and Opportunity Growth (AGOA) and Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association (BEMA).

The Challenges thus far…

While at personal level Letshwiti and her company have positive vibes to share, it appears the local textile industry still has its own limitations. Letshwiti says she has been making attempts to roll out a ‘Print’ to local printers but she is having a hard time getting an ideal printer who could print her fabric in an exclusive relationship agreement. Almost all of those who are in the business of printing locally do not want to be in the kind of arrangement that Letshwiti wants. She explains that this is a hiccup because she has to send garments to South Africa and it is costing her a lot of money.

“I am now forced to send fabric to South Africa to get printed and bring it back to Botswana to manufacture it and send it back to Johannesburg to retail.”

As a result of the failure to come on board by local printers, Letshwiti last year experienced an intellectual property crisis with a supplier.

“We had an agreement to manufacture some textile goods with this person and I showed them specifications of what I wanted and they went and manufactured the goods for themselves too. And because we did not sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) it was difficult to report this person.” She noted. Letshwiti shares that signing an NDA with suppliers in this country can be quite a complex exercise. Meanwhile Lesweedy Diaries intends to launch its first fabric this coming winter.

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