Featured, Movers & Shakers

A moment with ZIWA Entrepreneur of The Year

ZIWA Entrepreneur of The Year - Nonkululeko Tutani Jijita PIC: COURTESY OF LOVENONKU.COM

The toy business might not be perceived as something worth investing in locally as people perceive it as ‘not a lucrative venture but what many forget is that they were once children and they loved toys and now that they are parents they are spending a fortune on toys as they want to put bright smiles on their children’s faces.

Well for UK based, Nonkululeko Tutani Jijita, a mother of eight year old twins, it’s a different story as she has seen a gap in the toy industry and has established a handmade doll collection, Love Nonku.

Because of the success of her brand, Jijita was awarded the 2016 Entrepreneur of The Year award at the 2016 Zimbabwe International Women Awards (ZIWA).

Zimbo Jam got to speak with Jijita and she got to tell us more about how her brand was started and how she plans to make doll making a full time job.

When and how was Love Nonku formed?

Some of Nonku's creations PIC COURTESY OF LOVENONKU.COM
Some of Nonku’s creations PIC COURTESY OF LOVENONKU.COM

Love Nonku was formed in 2012 in my mother in-laws lounge in Zimbabwe. Prior to starting Love Nonku I was in the business of buying and selling clothes but this was really hectic and was not in line with where I wanted to go.

I was looking for something that I actually enjoyed. I don’t have any formal training in art, the only thing I did was fashion and fabrics from form one to four, but I used to watch my grandmother making dolls and sometimes I made some as well.

I love creating things and working with my hands so I started making dolls. At the moment Love Nonku is a one woman show and my typical work day sometimes starts at 7am and ends at 9pm.  I work from my home studio and normally produce about three dolls a day.

Where are your materials sourced and produced?

I get most of my things locally here in Manchester. They have great fabrics and I find it easier and less time consuming.

How has the market reacted to your product?

Most people have loved the dolls.  I did not go for a typical doll look but resorted to a more cartoonish, plain, simple and playful kind of look. I have embraced diversity and hence incorporated other skin tones to my collections besides the brown skinned dolls I started out with.

What distinguishes your business offering from the competition?

I love this phrase which says the world is abundant and there is enough room for everybody. So I cheer for everybody. I was raised to believe there is enough sun for everyone so I don’t really look at other doll makers as competition. I am passionate about my product. I get into a childlike state of mind, which I think is reflective in my dolls.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I do a lot of prayer and meditation. I usually find that ideas come in when I quieten my mind. For me prayer is talking to God and meditation is hearing from God, quieten your mind and be still.

What were your major initial start-up challenges?

My major initial start-up challenges were economic.  Power cuts meant that I could not work and therefore would have to switch to a manual sewing machine which was time consuming,

How do you maintain a work- home balance with two kids?

I structure my day in such a way that both my part time job and business work around my kids schedule.

Do you think the attitude towards female entrepreneurs is changing?

I think it is. We just have to get past the hurdle of proving ourselves in the business industry but female entrepreneur’s visibility has greatly improved especially on the African continent.

What is your long term vision for Love Nonku?

Africa! A lot of people misunderstand it, ‘Kuionera mubhodhoro’ as we would say it in Shona, but it is the next one to watch.

I need to explode in Africa but being based in Zimbabwe.

What business advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t give up. I was led into a different career path but my passion was craft. I would say to my younger self, don’t give up. I should have kept doing what I loved even on the side.

What should we look forward to in the next five years?

A few new items added to the Love Nonku collection.

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Glenda Makumbe
Glenda is a content contributor for She Leads Africa, an online community that helps young women achieve their professional dreams. When she is not buzzing around, guest writing for online publications or giving back to her community, she enjoys gardening.
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