Africa has a long tradition of producing handcrafted goods that are lovingly produced by each country’s rural communities. But for one company, Gone Rural in eSwatini, headed by entrepreneur Mellisa Mazingi, the mission is to create world class, handcrafted products that the world can fall in love with.
LoA chatted to Mellisa Mazingi this month to find out more.
What does your company do?
Gone Rural is a Swazi handcraft company inspired by women weavers, using creativity and design to ignite change on a community level through ethical, handmade products. Offering income to more than 780 rural women artisans, these women are skilled weavers and are at the heart of everything we do, as we aim to provide them with sustainable income, decision-making powers and creative outlets. Gone Rural is constantly reinventing the traditional weaving techniques, and revolutionising the world-view of African handcraft. Our products range from functional homeware to gallery pieces, with traditional weaving techniques reinterpreted into new and innovative contemporary designs. Inspired by the lutindzi grass of the mountains of Swaziland and the women leaders of rural communities, Gone Rural transforms the indigenous art of weaving into high-quality products that are showcased and loved all over the world.
"Gone Rural is constantly reinventing the traditional weaving techniques, and revolutionising the world-view of African handcraft."
What inspired you to start your company?
Gone Rural began as one woman's mission to empower women in Swaziland's most remote areas. Jenny Thorne's visionary business model was started in 1992 with 30 basket weavers and artisans, with the objective of creating a way for the rural women to earn an income from home as well as share their beautiful craft with the world. From a craft shop in eSwatini (Swaziland), Gone Rural has grown to working with 786 artisans, selling their products to more than 300 customers all over the world. Gone Rural has blossomed from a local women's empowerment project to a global leader in handcraft and design, using creativity to ignite social change. A quarter of a century later, women and the community remain at the heart of everything we do.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Our products re-imagine African craft in ways that are contemporary, modern and chic. Gone Rural's talented artisans weave products ranging from functional homeware to awe-inspiring gallery pieces - including Signature Collections inspired by the stories of the women weavers and collaborations with artists and high-end designers such as Dokter and Misses and Misha Khan. We remain committed to economically empowering our weavers, offering quality training to our artisans, maintaining the integrity of the handcraft tradition, and being proud ambassadors for eSwatini. When purchasing a decor piece from Gone Rural, you are not just inviting an item of beauty into your home, but also the love and dedication woven through each product.
"Gone Rural transforms the indigenous art of weaving into high-quality products that are showcased and loved all over the world."
"Gone Rural has blossomed from a local women's empowerment project to a global leader in handcraft and design, using creativity to ignite social change."
Tell us a little about your team
Gone Rural's team is made up of 30 motivated and passionate staff who are like family; the team believes in our mission and is very much what drives our work forward each day. 76% of our staff are women, with 75% of our management team being female. In 2009, the Rural Artisan Board was established to ensure that the voices of all 13 producer groups were incorporated into the growth of Gone Rural. From the company's vision to the pricing of products, the Rural Artisan Board is involved in decisions that impact our brand
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My passion is in making something great out of little to nothing - which I believe is what entrepreneurs do every day. My entrepreneurial journey began with a fashion events and PR company that evolved into an online fashion store, zedlabel - now Prêt-Afriquer, retailing high-end accessory brands from all over the continent that showcase the best of African creativity. I love helping creative businesses and social enterprises achieve their business goals, which I do for Gone Rural and with Prêt-Afriquer
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Gone Rural has always been a leader in women's empowerment - from a visionary business model over a quarter of a century ago, when social enterprise wasn't yet a buzzword. Our next phase will be in continuing to evolve the level of empowerment we provide to the women we support - creating opportunities for the women to grow beyond the artisan and become product designers, teachers, businesswomen and rural cultural ambassadors. The first phase of this development is through our ongoing artisan-led design projects: training artisan groups in product design and development skills for the women to design product collections true to their hearts and inspirations, with greater income generation yields and ownership over the products as a result. Furthermore, we are in the process of developing a training program to develop trainers among skilled weavers, who will formally train the next generation of weavers - passing on an income generating skill as well as preserving the cultural craft that this model is built on. This vocational training program will increase the impact of our work as well as create avenues for growth for rural women outside of weaving also.
"We are in the process of developing a training program to develop trainers among skilled weavers, who will formally train the next generation of weavers - passing on an income generating skill as well as preserving the cultural craft that this model is built on."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I love to see the personal impact of business - the children of entrepreneurs growing up to be powerful human beings in their own right, the personal empowerment that staff enjoy in encouraging entrepreneurial environments, and the happy dance that each entrepreneur does with each business win. I believe that business is so much more than just the bottom line, and that entrepreneurship provides a bigger platform to make that impact.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Build a tribe - there is nothing more powerful and valuable than a group of friends in business for whom you are each other's personal cheerleaders, motivators and reference-givers. These people will celebrate with you when you're winning, give you a push when you're growing and help you up from the inevitable stumbles along the way. Also, it's important to prioritise your off-the-clock relationships too - setting boundaries is hard, but very necessary!
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Why LoA loves it….
Africa needs more impact driven entrepreneurs who can make a real difference to people’s lives and livelihoods on the continent, and in Mellisa Mazingi, they have found a passion driven game-changer. She is taking this renowned, eSwatini company and brand to a whole new level, and in the process, connecting the world’s discerning buyers to the talented craftswomen and traditions of this country. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa