The talented artist and designer uses her business that produces authentic, functional bags from recycled plastic, to empower mentally disabled people in KwaZulu-Natal.

Zulu’s business ZuluGal Retro, is an SMME which has provided jobs for a team of 10 mentally disabled people living in and around townships in Durban within its first year of operation. She and her team produce a range of exquisite, personalised South African purses, cellphone pouches and handbags.

According to Cape Mental Health spokesperson Gerrie van Eeden, an estimated 7.5% of the population live with some form of disability, and the group most often excluded from the open labour market is adults with mental disabilities.

He says in South Africa, the majority of adults with this disability are either unemployed or underemployed. They are often marginalised and excluded from various aspects of life because there is a perception that they are unable to contribute or play a meaningful role due to their disability.

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It is this group who need the most support from the business sector and Zulu has built her business by economically empowering these young people.

With a Degree in Fine Arts from the Durban University of Technology, she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in the same field at the same institution. “I worked as an artist, designer and handmade product developer for more than nine years at the African Art Centre, a non-profit company in Durban,” she says.

In addition, in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to sustainability and care of the environment in the arts and fashion industry, she has been selected among just five finalists for the Eco-Logic Awards 2018 – in the category Recycling and Waste Management.

She was also nominated for the 2018 Inco Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award which recognises women entrepreneurs who are solving social and environmental challenges at a local level.

The nominees were invited to compete at a pitch competition in Johannesburg and the local winner proceeded to compete with other women-led social enterprises at international level in Paris. “This was unexpected. Even though I didn’t win the local pitch competition, it was a great honour to have been nominated because my business had been running for only two years when I got nominated,” she says.

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In 2015, Zulu was one of 40 South Africans to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

She travelled to the US to study at the University of Texas, Austin and attended a three-day presidential summit hosted by former US president Barack Obama where she interacted with leaders in business, government and the non-profit sector.

She recalls that when she started her business, the main stumbling block was accessing the bigger market to showcase and generate income from their products, especially outside Durban and KZN.

“Fortunately, I overcame these challenges when ZuluGal Retro joined the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy. I was handpicked by the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy in 2017 to be among only 16 of the top social entrepreneurs in the country, to attend their in-house training course, and benefit from a one-on-one mentorship programme,” she says.

Through the support of the Red Bull Amaphiko programme, ZuluGal Retro is currently concluding a business deal with Tourvest Destination Retail.

This major retailer runs prestigious curio shop outlets at local and international airports. Red Bull Amaphiko has also assisted her company to expand its clientele base by giving them an opportunity to exhibit their range at the Decorex trade show in Cape Town.

She says it is fulfilling to know that she has incepted a company which enables her to apply her arts and design skills while simultaneously solving social problems of unemployment among the socio-economically marginalised differently-abled youth and their caregivers.

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“Further fulfilment comes from running ZuluGal Retro, a company contributing towards the creation of sustainable fashion and the preservation of the environment through its dynamic product range. The differently-abled youth and their caregivers currently working with ZuluGal Retro have not only gained economic independence through sales of their eco-friendly range, but their dignity has been restored through being reintegrated into our socio-economic spheres,” she says.

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