Harnessing the power of partnerships is at the heart of many successful businesses. For Sharika Punwasi, founder of high-end kids fashion brand, My Cotton Tree, her partnerships were found in both South Africa and Mauritius, harnessing the best of skills and expertise in both markets.
LoA chatted to founder Sharika Punwasi this month to find out more.
What does your company do?
We produce a range of high-end kids garments which are designed in South Africa, and we have partnered with a female entrepreneur in Mauritius who manufactures for us. We believe in leveraging off our African neighbors to become globally competitive. My Cotton Tree is a proudly South African brand which has leveraged the manufacturing skills of Mauritius and connected the advanced fashion industry in South Africa, to create a globally competitive brand. Grouping these two skills is surely a recipe for success.
“My Cotton Tree is a proudly South African brand which has leveraged the manufacturing skills of Mauritius and connected the advanced fashion industry in South Africa, to create a globally competitive brand.”
What inspired you to start your company?
I have always been a fashion fundi and a lover of beautiful, well designed and stylish clothes. However, finding quality is always a mission when you look at how the fashion industry has been evolving and the influx of Chinese manufactured clothing. Further to this, the quality of cotton and the fabrics were always questionable. Then in 2015, with the birth of my son, I became that mother who constantly wants to dress her child in the coolest, most fashionable clothes because there just aren’t enough photographs that a mum can have of her child looking so beautiful. I found that there was a gap in the market for quality clothing but at affordable prices. The kids clothing market in South Africa had also become commoditized with the like of some kids clothing labels being bought by the bigger retailers, and the advent of mass production leading to declining quality. I flirted with the idea of sourcing designs and fabrics from across the globe to start my own kids fashion label.
Coincidentally at the time, I read an article in The Economist magazine on the plight of Indian cotton farmers in Maharashtra which is home to the world’s finest cotton farms. These poor farmers were resorting to taking their own lives due to the high debt levels they had gotten into. The drop in cotton prices meant that they were failing to repay loans from local loan sharks. The loans were for amounts as low as $1,000 US dollars. It was so sad to read about the wasted lives of these farmers. At the same time I started more in-depth research about the Indian cotton market and found that India has one of the best quality cottons in the world. I wanted to start an intervention to see how we could help businesses in need, which such unique skills.
My research led to me to Mauritius which has some great cotton mills and cotton manufacturing facilities, as well as skilled seamstresses across multiple factories. Some of the local dye houses in Mauritius are also importing the best quality Indian cotton and fabrics. I had left the corporate world of Finance and Marketing to pursue this dream, which has completely fulfilled me, and have no regrets.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
My Cotton Tree is a South African brand which has partnered with our neighboring country of Mauritius to bring world-class, quality kids fashion to consumers in South Africa.The quality and the attention to detail by our seamstresses is impeccable; the detail stitching is unmatched, and finishing is spotless. Our garments can match any of those produced in the global design houses of the world. Our factory has manufactured for major fashion houses like Orchestra in France and Sacoor Kids in Portugal. We source our cotton from sustainable cotton mills, which also supply most of the major retailers in South Africa and around the world. The factory is also very conscious of fabric wastage, to the extent that all waste fabric is used to make soft toys for kids and distributed in Mauritius.
“The quality and the attention to detail by our seamstresses is impeccable; the detail stitching is unmatched, and finishing is spotless.”
”Our garments can match any of those produced in the global design houses of the world.”
Tell us a little about your team
My relationship with the factory has evolved very quickly over the past year, where I continue to perform the product development and design of the garments in South Africa and liaise directly with the technical experts at the factory to produce an outstanding range of kids clothing. The branding, marketing and labeling is all undertaken in South Africa. The owner of the factory is a young female entrepreneur who is very driven, and at the tender age of 33 has produced for major global retailers and brands. In South Africa, my sister and I are the designers and product developers for the My Cotton Tree brand.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I actually have a Finance and Marketing background. I have my honors degree in Management Accounting and Finance and completed a General Management MBA at The Gordon Institute of Business Science in 2014, with the intention of excelling in a corporate career. However, after the birth of my son, life changed and so did my priorities. It was a traumatic delivery and he was born at 1.8kg, and from the first moment I held this little creature that needed all my love and attention to develop, my life changed and so did my priorities. I wanted to spend as much time with him, and decided to leave the corporate world and pursue a new dream. I was in pursuit of good quality clothing at affordable prices and found a gap in the market when I realized it was also the pursuit of many other mums too. I believe a good product always comes from a personal need, and this was the need I was fulfilling. Good quality kids fashion made in luxurious cotton at an affordable price.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I want to be the flagship story of how connecting with our African neighbors and pooling skills can enable us to build globally competitive brands. We are in current negotiations to list the brand in Botswana, Mauritius and Cameroon and have our sights set on London in 2019. At the end of 5 years I want my brand label to say, My Cotton Tree - Made in Africa, and available in Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi, Gabarone, Cameroon, Mauritius, London, and Paris. This should be an African-built brand that entrenches its footprint in major African cities, and be seen as a point of differentiation in kids fashion, to cities like London and Paris, which are also fashion capitals of the world. I want to develop a global stage for African designers and textile manufacturers of kids clothing.
“I believe a good product always comes from a personal need, and this was the need I was fulfilling. Good quality kids fashion made in luxurious cotton at an affordable price.”
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
The greatest satisfaction comes when I bring a new range to my clients and I see the awe and excitement in them. They describe a new range launch as like a Christmas present, irrespective of the time of year, as the excitement is so great seeing what’s behind the curtain. I love having a range of pricing so that anyone and everyone can afford fashionable, high quality clothes for their children from My Cotton Tree. As Africans, we love to dress our kids well, as it give us a felling of accomplishment, and I will continue to strive to fulfill this dream of every mum. It’s what makes me spring out of bed in the morning, and keeps me up till 1am, and I am just loving it.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Just do it. Don't worry about the business plan and financials and fluffy story boards and strategic 5 year plan. You just need to go out and do it. All you need to do is start. Have confidence in your idea, connect with your immediate circle and do a test, and if it takes off with them, chances are it will be a hit. Don't ever let doubt prevent you from launching your dream. Once you start it you will see a snowball effect.
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Why LoA loves it….
The world of fashion and clothing production is a highly competitive one, and that is particularly the case with the children’s clothing market. Finding a niche in the market to create clothing that young fashion conscious moms want to buy and children want to wear is key to success. For My Cotton Tree founder, Sharika Punwasi, that niche was found in creating beautifully designed clothes in high quality cotton at an affordable price, a winning combination. Watch this brand as it wins over more fashion conscious mom fans over the coming months and years. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa