In 2013, Mji, her sister Nosizwe and their mother packed their bags and headed to Rishikesh in India, where they signed up for a Hatha yoga teacher’s training course. The experience brought them closer together and also provided a platform for Mji’s new life as a yogapreneur.
However, the transition in her life had already started long before then. Mji, whose family is originally from Clermont in KwaZulu-Natal, studied law at the University of Cape Town. At the age of 28, she had a burgeoning career as an advocate and was exposed to a range of cases many in her field envied, like having reported judgments and appearing in the Constitutional Court. But there was a downside to all the success: stress – and a lot of it. She says she felt as if her identity had become completely enmeshed in her career. “I did substantive work, but because my coping mechanisms weren’t that great, my health suffered.” She was also diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a potentially fatal inflammatory disease which can affect multiple organs. In Mji’s case, it affected her eyes – and for someone who’d always been healthy, this was a major blow. “I felt let down by my body – and yoga facilitated the new conversation I had to have with it,” she explains.
Hitting the yoga mat also gave her the space to process the many things happening in her life. Looking at her colleagues, Mji realised that her legal workload could only get heavier as her career progressed. Yoga became a form of self-therapy and soon, she’d persuaded Nosizwe to partner with her in opening a studio of their own.
The sisters returned to their native Durban, where they opened The Toolbox in a serene garden setting in Peter Mokaba Rd in Musgrave. Apart from yoga, it also has facilities for workshops. The Mjis spent R180 000 on setting up the business, the bulk of which went on equipping and modifying the space in which they operate. They currently offer a range of classes throughout the week and employ several teachers. They aim to train more of them in the coming years.
Over the past two years, they’ve focused on building their brand and partnerships, while expanding their offerings and “preparing to be more focused on business and money”, says Mji. From the start, the entire business model has been developing organically, but they’re now committed to putting more solid systems in place.
Having her sister as a business partner has been a hugely rewarding experience for Mji because they complement each other well and share the same values. Their business ventures also include a bespoke beading company known as Hearts Lead the Way, where they “make bead dreams come true” on everything from shoes to bridal jewellery and unusual garments. What’s more, they use the services of many township and rural women who might otherwise have been unemployed. In addition, they’re teaching beaders how to market their work and price it fairly, so that they’re not exploited.
It seems that Mji, who calls herself a “recovering lawyer”, is destined for a life of changing perceptions and fighting for human rights, be it through law, yoga or beading.
By Wendy Jasson da Costa