Freda Motshidisi MalemaFreemo’s Hat Design

Favorite quote: “Be the best you can ever be in what you do.”

What is your story (tell us about yourself)?
I was born and bred in Diepkloof Soweto and attended my primary school there. I then proceeded to attend boarding school at Motswedi High school in Zeerust for my matric. I did my tertiary studies, degree in Public Administration with the University of North West, Management Development Program (MDP) with University of Pretoria and Master’s, Diploma in Human Resources Management with University of Johannesburg. I am a seasoned HR professional at heart but jobs these days have been scarce and so I found myself creating hats.

I am a mother to two lovely daughters and blessed with 2 beautiful grandsons.

I am currently operating from home in Pretoria.

When did you start your first business and what inspired you to start?
I started FHD (my company) in 2019, when I did not have a job. A friend of mine Mantsho Matlhabegoane encouraged me to go learn how to make hats. I was a bit skeptical and not sure if I could do that because I saw myself as a Human Capital professional. My friend then actually went and paid for my training. The training was close to my house, so she would come and sleep at my place so that the two of us could attend classes together. The training was done by Yuanita from Hats Design SA for 3 days.
It was a journey I never thought I would or could travel but it gives me such deep satisfaction. It reignited my creative side that I never thought was there. Now, I am passionate about it and love what I do.

What is the Key Objective(s) and Vision of your business? (Has it changed overtime or is has it always been this?)
To grow the business in SA and employ more people beyond the borders.

What challenges did you face in your journey? What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome (are still overcoming)?
Financial challenge. Tools of trade such as acquiring a sewing machine, molding crowns, 2 pairs of scissors, material, different colours of threads, glue gun, glue sticks, tape measure, accessories such as flowers, beads etc.

The first challenge was that I am trained to make hats, but I do not have money to start practicing that skill. During the training we start with a small fascinator and wedding or church hat and it formed part of my example or rather call it my marketing strategy to show case the hats I make. The two hats I used for my marketing strategy were immediately bought by my friends. I had a very good relationship with my sister-in-law and I told her my challenge of not having a machine and she said I must come and get a sewing machine since she had 3. Since getting the machine applying the skill learned was important as practice makes perfect. That was a huge breakthrough to get a machine for the business.

The second problem was getting the sinamay which is the material that we use to make hats. I started advertising on social media Facebook, WhatsApp status and Instagram that I make hats. Remember I am unemployed, and I do not have a startup funds to run this business. I then made a decision that when a customer wants a hat, I should ask for a deposit so that I can go buy her material to start designing the hat. The customer will then pay the balance on collection. Every time I got an order, I would buy accessories and leftovers to be used in the next order. I learned tricks on how to save on material and to reuse in a case I need for another hat instead of driving every time I had an order unless if a client wants a totally different colour like red, yellow, green, cerise, or orange. It’s true when they say desperate situations calls for great solutions.

The next challenge is that if you do not have enough funds, you end up working from hand to mouth. You do not realize or see your profit being saved but there is growth in terms of the number of new clients and the retention of my clients who come back for different hats and also buying for friends and family members as birthday gifts and so forth.

The third challenge is caused by Covid 19, I was getting orders for events such as High teas, Weddings, Parties, unveilings but now all has stopped. I sadly only get few orders for funerals now.

The forth challenge is to keep abreast since any business is evolving and need to attend more courses to move with the trends. I do not have funds to go back and upgrade my skills to stay on trend. This hat business is linked with fashion and it is seasonal. I must go learn how to make hats with felt material for winter hats for example.

All my challenges revolves around finances. However, I am glad about the fact that I do not have stress caused by a loan from the Banks. No sleepless nights so far, due to not paying a staff member.

If I could get funding from SEFA or any government entity I would buy 4 extra machines and create employment for 2 women and 2 students who are fashion designers to face the market and claim their piece from the market pie.

How did you manage to navigate your company through this period of the Covid-19 pandemic? (What business strategies/operational adjustments have you made over this period and how has it impacted your business model?)
FHD is only 2 years old and was hit by Covid 19 whilst trying to enter in the market. So far the strategy is to self-learn and practice other styles through Pinterest and YouTube to avoid being stagnate and losing the skill and momentum. I also design a few black hats in case a client is desperate because death does not allow us to plan its exact timing. Some clients would say please show me what you have and just buy as they are desperate and due to a matter of urgency.

How do you approach networking and building partnerships in your industry?
I see that as a great opportunity because it creates a platform for a 1 stop shop. I imagine a lady preparing for her wedding dress and I have my 2 young designers draw a dress pattern and we complete it with a beautiful fascinator veil. I would really love that partnership. The client wont drive around but we would have saved her stress, time and petrol of driving around.

Do you have (or ever had) a mentor in your journey, and do you believe it helped (if yes, in what way)?
My current mentor is Yuanita, the lady who trained me because she shares a lot of her experience and advice with me, she makes me aware of hurdles that I might not even be aware of since this is not my area of expertise.

A mentor is necessary because they help you through unfamiliar areas with their wisdom and knowledge as per Johari Window. They help you to stay focused on what they are doing and encourage you because it’s easy to get derailed.

What is your perspective on the South African entrepreneurial landscape before and after Covid-19 pandemic? (Would you say the “new normal” context drives more or less opportunities for entrepreneurs?) How can entrepreneurial policy development aid in expanding opportunities in this new context?
Before Covid19, I never saw a lot of entrepreneurs being assisted except those that had contacts to assist them hence I just worked on what made me move on. The BBBEE scoring is not consistent and human factors manipulates the brilliant system due to selfish reasons, lack of objectivity and thereby overlooking the needs of the masses.

After Covid19 the new normal does not drive business Government should allow, at least R50K as start up for small business coupled with support in terms of being trained in Finance, the basic running of the business in terms of being accountable for every cent spent on your business, have a coach/mentor in the industry and have an after care inspector after 2 years to see if business is growing or not. As far as the BBBEE is concerned a computer-generated online system should be set up without human interferences and it will assess and grant the feasible business to avoid officials granting their family members. That’s how I see the Government being of assistance.

In your opinion, what are the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur?
1. Being yourself
2. Striving to be the best you can ever be – Quality is king
3. Being passionate about what you are doing and have fun.
4. Embrace others especially those related to what you are doing to make a lovely chain, no man is an island.
5. Ensure that your business impact positively on the society and the environment.
6. Play a fair game in the industry

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Be patient it takes some time to build a business, don’t cut corners. No get rich quick schemes.

Be the brand you want to be reckoned with.

Love what you do.