AFTER struggling to find work after completing two degrees and working in a number of menial jobs, it was only natural for Bloemfontein-based businesswoman and project management graduate Refilwe Lerato Senoko to start her own company.
Sneaker manufacturing company UNXpected was to follow, which she says has brought unexpected success in her life.
Senoko says the success she now enjoys has surpassed her wildest expectations. She has already been to China and Italy to promote her products.
She matriculated from Eunice Girls High in 2003, thereafter graduating from the Tshwane University of Technology before obtaining another qualification from the University of South Africa in advanced project management.
“I returned to Bloemfontein in 2009, I could say this was my wilderness time. For three years I was job hunting and nothing was coming up but I looked at it as a blessing in disguise, this was the time I had to soul search and the time God gave me to raise my son to build a solid foundation in his developing stages,” Senoko said.
She said this was the toughest time in her life which came with much reflection and in 2012 the idea to start her own company came from that difficult time.
Starting from a very small scale, she could only afford to manufacture 20 caps. After various obstacles, including being fired from a job, the thought of feeding her son made her look back at her dream of being a fashion mogul.
“I looked at the sneaker industry and saw that this industry was impossible but the fact that it seemed impossible was what made me want to pursue the shoe industry, so I researched and God just aligned me with the right people and I got a mentor who made shoes and the rest is history.”
This was followed by obtaining the necessary skills at an innovative and creative workshop and then attending a craft school to learn techniques.
The idea of making hand made sneakers came from not having a cutting machine.
The entrepreneur has three permanent employees and two temporary workers and is training nine students with a view to making two of them permanent.
In July, the brand was one of the organisations chosen to represent the Free State at the Torino Fashion Week in Italy, UNXpected was also given a boosting grant for the first production line from the National Youth Development Agency valued at R50000.
The Free State Development Corporation and department of economic, small business development, tourism and environmental affairs also played an important role to her success.
Her suitcase hasn’t been unpacked this year as this month she was one of the entrepreneurs representing the country in Guangzhou, China, at the China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair 2017.
“An opportunity I will never forget, this trip showed me that I’m in the right field and that I’m not crazy, there are people like me (the Chinese) who make impossible seem so possible” she said.
Her trip to China has made her desire for manufacturing even more pronounced as the challenges of equipment are sorted. The deterrent now is a lack of finances to get specific machinery.
She says she sees herself opening a factory soon and having her brand in retail stores nationally and internationally, but the biggest achievement would be creating jobs.
“We are also looking to train people to hire so I’m very excited for the future,” Senoko said.