by Brigette Mashile, founder of Roka Roko
In the 4 years that Roka Roko has been in existence, I have hired 6 people and lost all of them, each for different reasons. I have learned how tough it is to find the right person to hire and keep them. A lot of us say hiring is growth and give it a status, making it sound fancy and grand. Well, it is the same as the fashion industry, nothing fancy but really challenging.
Let’s review each of the people I worked with to see the issues within the seaming industry. I will try to write them to detail without offending anyone, please bear with me.
She was Zimbabwean, 28, married with 2 kids. From the get go, I knew I would love working with her. She was a very frank person, which is my favourite trait because I am too. We had a great business marriage. I could rely on her to complete outfits without my management; and she lived close to me. I met her husband and children, and we spoke about almost everything. I shared all the knowledge I had about fashion, and she decided take and complete pattern classes while with me.
Why did she leave? I asked her to! In December that year she had to leave for Zimbabwe the week of 17th December. This is one of the biggest weeks of any fashion business leading to even a bigger one (just before Christmas), during the biggest month of the year. This resulted in me having to do work I had confirmed with clients alone, and failing to reach deadlines. It was the most painful thing to do, some orders moved to January meaning the revenue moved with them. In January when she returned I simply couldn’t pay her because we had not made the money in December. So I let my work wife go, painfully. You are probably thinking I should’ve dived into my savings…the company was 1 year old then with not much really, and I knew that touching any other funds available would become a habit. This kind of experience makes you pull back, feel depressed and down and re think again. This lady went on to work elsewhere and start her own business, we are still friends.
She was South African, young and needed a job. She lived very close and asked me to train her while I was still with employee 1. From day one I knew that she would not last in the job, mainly because it seemed she had other problems in her life. She was slower with the work and struggled a bit with finishing what we were making. But she was very punctual and quiet. She eventually left one month later, I cannot recall why. I willingly let her go.
This lady I asked to come in because we had a lot of work and needed more help. She was over 45 and as energetic as me. I loved her. She was funny and talkative. But best of all, she was amazing at her job. And very fast. She had been working in a factory and the factory was in the process of cutting down, and she was waiting for a decision from them. One day I am talking about hypertension, and fetch my testing machine. I tested myself and jokingly said we should check everyone’s readings. Hers was 180/110. This was one of the most scariest times in my life because I have experienced high blood pressure and know most of the results from it. I convinced her to go to the clinic with me for a second opinion; they wanted to keep her there. But we couldn’t afford it; so I took her home. That was the last time I saw that lady. I know she is fine though, we still talk.
After my separation with employee one, I started searching for someone else towards the end of the year. I found a male tailor who stitched so fast he would have to wait for me to finish cutting. We were producing pretty fast and it looked promising. Except that he didn’t have that ‘nip and clean’ habit that custom makers need and demand. He worked like someone from a factory producing bulk items. The area around him would look like a storm went through it, and the actual items needed further cleaning. I was ok with this, it’s a habit that you can unlearn. This was better than the fact that he didn’t speak any of the local languages, and his English was also not clear. I had to explain a bit more with each task. Why did he leave? He lived in Johannesburg and I was in Kempton Park. The travelling finally got to him. He started coming to work late and later and later. But lying to me about why. I realised he was struggling, because we really don’t have the best public transport system. Eventually I had to let him go, especially as I was about to move the business to Midrand, even further away.
In our first week we had a fight because I discovered she had lied about knowing how to do a zip. She could do everything else; but the zip failed her miserably. This was frustrating because 90% of what I make needs a zip somewhere. I also worried about the fact that she had lied about it; but then again if you were in a foreign country and needed a job…what are you willing not to do? This lady was a fast learner and stayed with me for two and a bit more years. We had the best times in that room. I hid nothing from her. I said to her when you leave here you need to be ready for your own business. I explained pricing, costing, measuring, fabrics, clients, etc. When this business marriage ended we were getting her used to doing her own fittings. I was sure she could do it, and I was wrong. In summer we were working 6 days a week, in winter 3 days a week, we had our formula worked out and flowing. Then, a terrible stint hit. I knew months ahead we had a problem. I tried to remember what I had done the prior year to curb this problem. I had planned better. Me and another fashion designer had shared this lady throughout winter. So, she had two jobs, switching week to week and getting paid by the two of us each month. It worked like a charm. This year I had forgotten this. Eventually after 15% VAT increase, petrol increases, rand currency drops and the lower trend of winter, I decided to move to a more affordable space. In that process of moving, cash was tough to find, and I delayed on her salary that month. This is nothing rare. Many many small, mid and big businesses go through this in silence. No one talks about this. This is the very reason why many entrepreneurs are scared of hiring permanent staff. You can afford them for 2 years and boom VAT goes up and its over. That month of adjusting to new demands, is HARD. You will lose clients, but worst of all you will lose your assistant.
He was 20, from a youth empowerment training programme. He had no experience in anything. So we had to train him from scratch. Training for work I was ok with, training on work etiquette was more difficult. He was young and straight from high school. 9-5 didn’t make sense to him. He would disappear at lunch for a long time. Eventually I let myself fail him. Painfully. He came after employee 5 and left before her as well.
In closing; being a manager is HARD. Having an employee is a lot of pressure. Many of us don’t speak about this. Finding a nanny is hard, so imagine a seamstress. Most of us do not have any experience of managing people except maybe our siblings only. I really don’t know if I am a good or a bad boss. We would need all these people’s comments. I think we all do our best to give the best to people and expect the best from them. A lot of times its just personalities that clash, misunderstandings, etc. Employees will never understand the challenges business owners go through, and we really don’t know what they face themselves. I do think our country can do more to merge the gap between the job creators(entrepreneurs) and available labour. The process must become more supportive to entrepreneurs so we curb the fear of hiring. I am definitely scarred by each of the experiences I went through with each employee; and I am becoming more and more fearful of hiring again.
Brigette Mashile is the founder and creative force behind Roka Roko, a custom fashion design business based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The company passionately delivers quality tailored and trendy fashion to make their customers happy, and specializes in styling women by creating unusual combinations with fabric, culture and style. Brigette has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Witwatersrand and a Fashion Diploma from Studio5 School of Fashion. She’s a former fashion buyer for a major retailer in South Africa, and an international direct selling company. She’s been passionate about fashion since the age of 10 and gained invaluable experience in the fashion world running informal fashion creation businesses until the day her own Roka Roko brand was born. Find out more by visiting the Roka Roko website www.rokaroko.co.za
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