Image: Adobe Stock

Granny entrepreneur ‘sewing ahead’ of the COVID curve

The COVID crisis has taught South African businesses several hard lessons, among them that global supply chains can break overnight and have a crippling domino effect.


Image: Adobe Stock

The most obvious example is the impact China’s lockdown had. “The outbreak of Covid-19 initially reduced the supply of goods from China to the rest of the world, creating a concoction of knock-on effects that negatively impacted major industries globally,” Reinhardt Arp, environmental economist at WWF South Africa, recently wrote in Fin24.

“Today, our ‘just-in-time’ supply chains cannot cope with the various lockdowns imposed across the planet.”

Businesses ‘big and small’ diversify focus

With industry heads and Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel calling for all sectors to reassess supply chains as a result, businesses big and small are looking to diversify with a focus on what can be made and sold within our borders. 

This is all old news to Florence Parnell-Ceylon, who started her SME PineApple Creations as a direct result of supply chain disruptions, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Based in the apple-growing town of Grabouw in the Western Cape, Parnell-Ceylon realised a few years ago that there was no affordable manufacturers of school-wear, industrial uniforms or protective-wear to service the Overberg and Helderberg areas.

Although not far from Cape Town, if supply from “the big city” was interrupted, children simply did not have school uniforms.

‘Sew’ easy

The solution came naturally to the mother of four and grandmother of three who developed her love of sewing as a child when she would accompany her mother to work and watch her mother’s employer sew. 

Before starting her own business in 2017, Parnell-Ceylon was in a sewing collective of five, but split from the four other women based on a hunch that niche textile manufacturing held more potential.

Unbeknown to Parnell-Ceylon, she was onto something. Her niche has become a rising sector within the textile manufacturing industry in recent years.

In the Department of Trade and Industry’s 2020 overview of South Africa’s clothing, textile, footwear and leather sector, “school uniforms, work-wear, protective clothing and uniforms for military and law enforcement” are listed among the top 10 investment opportunities for the sector. 

Job creation and skills upliftment

Ironically, Parnell-Ceylon received no initial investment, but insists she’s “proud of the fact that the business has been growing without any financial help”.

She currently works at least 50 hours a week and prides herself in the role she’s played in job creation and skills-upliftment within her community. 

After completing a business acumen course run by business incubator Fetola, PineApple Creations expanded beyond uniforms and work-wear to also offer sportswear, graduation cloaks, branded tracksuits and jackets and golf shirts.

It’s an expansion that the entrepreneur believes was made possible by what she calls her “old fashioned” business principles: “We deliver quality work, and we aim to finish and deliver orders on time”.

While PineApple Express has survived the early “make-or-break” years of any new business, it’s by no means high profit and there’s no chance the seamstress will be retiring soon, but a booming bottom-line is secondary for Parnell-Ceylon.

Having grown up on a farm watching her own and other farm families struggle, her point of pride is that “thanks to PineApple Creations, schoolchildren and workers in this area have access to quality, affordable uniforms”.