Itlhabolole: beauty from waste

8 January 2010

A band of motivated women from Ikopeleng village in South Africa’s North West province are leading a groundbreaking project that turns bin-destined waste into stylish clothing and indoor designs.

Itlhabolole Waste Management (Ithlabolole is Setswana for “develop yourself”) produces trendy ladies’ bags, traditional Tswana clothing, shoes, plastic wreaths, dustbins, peg holders, mats and placemats from plastic.

“We collect dirty plastics to create beautiful artefacts,” says founding member Margaret Khambule. “The people we work with are very passionate about the project.”

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Itlhabolole was started in 2000 by a group of 21 people, mostly women. In 2005 the group received their biggest funding, to the tune of US$51 200 (R387 700), from the National Lotteries Board.

Also in 2005, it was a recipient of a $2 640 (R20 000) donation from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) through its Khula Enterprise, which facilitates access to funding for small and medium businesses. The Small Enterprise Development Agency also gave Itlhabolole $6 600 (R50 000) in that year.

“This is a project that shows that women are an economic power in rural areas and are determined to fight poverty,” said then DTI deputy minister Elizabeth Thabethe at the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network imbizo in 2005.

The funds catapulted Itlhabolole to a prolific and stable organisation that is able to generate income for its members. Today the cooperative consists of 18 people, 14 of whom are women and two are youth.

“We sell our products and we also do exhibitions across the country. We try to boost our families,” said Khambule. “The project is not exactly big; we are just trying to sustain it.”

The DTI’s support for the group has been quite commendable, said Khambule. The National Development Agency (NDA), which is mandated by the government to fund community projects, has been funding Itlhabolole for the past two years. “The DTI and NDA are helping us a lot.”

Growth and success

Within just a year of its launch in 2000 the women were able to build their project’s headquarters in their village.

The cooperative continues to enjoy its success and growth. Its impressive showing at Decorex Joburg, an expo that took place in the city in August, secured Itlhabolele a deal to showcase its products to Germany in an exhibition in 2010, and a chance to get its products into German markets.

The annual Decorex event, a convergence of local and international designers, showcased chic indoor and outdoor designs.

Itlhabolole received an overwhelming response at Decorex and its products were sold out within two days. The project took home a silver medal in the Best Product category.

“This recognition is not only for the work that this organisation is doing, it also confirms for the women of Itlhabolole Waste Management that life is what you make of it,” said Potlako Ntlatleng, NDA North West provincial manager.

“In a time when concern over the environment is gaining much attention, a small village in a corner of South Africa is creating wealth out of the waste that litters our streets,” Ntlatleng said.

The group has established a strong client base in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kimberley and Botswana. “We also trained groups of people on recycling in Kimberley and Botswana,” said Khambule.

More than just a business

Itlhabolole is more than just a business project; it is also an NGO. As part of its community work the group embarked on a cleaning campaign in Ikopeleng village in October 2009.

Khambule said the campaign, which was also supported by their local municipality, was quite a success. She said they are on a drive to convince the government to lead clean-ups in villages. “We want to encourage the government to take part in these campaigns.”

Khambule added that they were looking ahead to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, when millions of visitors are expected to flock to South Africa. “The country must be beautiful,” she said.

Environmental responsibility

Teaching school-going youth about the necessity of a clean environment has also become the group’s work. They visit schools to drive a clean environment message. “It must ring in their heads that we need a clean environment,” said Khambule.

Farming could also become Itlhabolole’s next major success. The group has recently received a piece of land in their village and plan to use it to grow their gardening business.

At present, they sell their vegetables in surrounding villages in North West province. But the ultimate dream is to be able to supply major markets. “I dream about the farm becoming big, if we could just have a bigger market,” said Khambule.

She said they continue to receive support from other government ministries, such as the Departments of Agriculture as well as Arts and Culture. The latter department recently provided art and administration learnerships for Itlhabolole.

First published on 28 October 2009 by MediaClubSouthAfrica.com – get free high-resolution photos and professional feature articles from Brand South Africa’s media service.