At the center of Cape Town sits Green Market Square – a bustling market filled with curios from all over the African continent. It is a magnet for Cape Town’s tourists, who typically number over 5 million per year. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, South Africa went into lockdown: borders were closed, tourists stopped coming, and many market vendors were left with no source of income at all.
Some of these market vendors are members of Scalabrini’s Women’s Platform. With the need to adapt and provide for their families, they came together and quickly tapped into the demand for masks.
According to findings from National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, women are disproportionality affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. This was seen not only in South Africa, but around the world.
The five women – Eulali, Jeanette, Kelly, Tina and Therese – who have been part of Women’s Platform for the last few years, realised that they needed to make a plan to support themselves and their families in the time of lockdown.
“We thought it would maybe be one month. Before the lockdown I sold some things that I thought would carry me through,” says Theresa when reflecting on the start of lockdown.
“Before lockdown started, I had my own business, which was a sewing school. I trained Somali ladies how to sew at the Somali Association in Belville.” Jeanette was training eight women at her school before the lockdown started and the other four women were traders at markets around Cape Town.
With lockdown upon them, this group of women faced an unsure future. They had trained to sew certain things that, under lockdown, were not going to be sold. In a moment of brilliance, they came together and made a plan: to start a mask-sewing business.
“I learnt to make the masks because of what is going on in the world.” Eulali echoes what was said by each of the other women. Together, the group of five women approached Women’s Platform for assistance with marketing and selling the masks.
Jitske from Women’s Platform helped the women with marketing, to find more buyers and with the delivery and collection of the masks. Through the use of social media, over 500 masks were sold and over 200 were donated through cooperation with the Tamboerskloof Community Action Network, where they were then donated to people in Zwelitsha and the Tamboerskloof area. Kelly speaks of making masks to help other people protect themselves. “The lockdown shows me that I have a responsibility toward other people.” Tina shared this sentiment; “I made some masks for donation that I took to the hospital. I also give some to people on the road who don’t have masks. I went to the church yesterday and gave some masks to people who I can see don’t have good masks or don’t have any masks.”
Although the sales of masks have slowed down now, they were the boost the women needed to adapt and come up with new ideas. Jeanette is looking at moving her sewing classes online, Kelly is aiming to launch her new clothing designs for children in November, and the other women have their own business ideas brewing.
In a group discussion hosted by Women’s Platform, more stories were shared by women who have adapted their businesses under lockdown. Stories were shared by a woman who was active in the transport business and shifted from transporting kids to delivering food when schools were closed. Another businesswoman went from selling burgers to restaurants, to making and selling bread.
One lesson that has been learnt during the lockdown is that “every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” – Richard Branson
**Since this article was written the women have had another order come in for 200 sling bags and 400 masks.