Turning your passion into a successful business or side hustle is not always an easy feat, especially if you’re embarking on this new venture on your own. What you might have going for you is your passion and determination to succeed. Meet Renette who is not afraid to explore where her newfound passion and skills can take her.
Renette Vidot Acquah, a 48-year-old mother of two, Jade 18 and Kenneth 9, currently lives in Johannesburg South Africa. She said she has always been creative but hadn’t nurtured her creativity until she recently decided that it was time to explore how far she could take a newfound interest in sewing. She now runs her small business Soleil Creole from home, designing clutch and beach bags, hats and laptop carrier bags and other accessories using fabric and faux leather.
Coming from the Corporate world
I studied International Hotel Management and Business Studies in the UK and Switzerland. I moved to Ghana with my husband for four years where I worked in public relations and advertising, then we moved to South Africa where we have been living for the past 19 years. Interestingly, I come from a very corporate background, working for top executives in the mining industry and for Microsoft. So my work has always been of a white-collar nature, far from the creative world. My intention was never to start a business, but I wanted to sew for myself and the family.
Giving it a go
I only started sewing in February 2019, whilst out doing grocery shopping. On impulse, I also bought a sewing machine and decided that I will give it a go as I was at home not working then. I do not think I come across as a creative person but it is a part of me that I never nurtured. I am very meticulous so I follow instructions very well and am not afraid of failing and trying again, which is what I kept doing when I first started.
The chic lady in a suit can get her hands dirty too
There is this part of me that believes that if something was made by a human, then I should be able to do it if I put my head to it. I am also good with my hands and don’t believe in the ideology that the only good jobs are being doctors, engineers, lawyers and the financial industry. Travel, gardening, renovations and catering are things that interest me. The chic lady in heels and suits is also very comfortable in jeans and trainers and getting her hands dirty. That’s me. Having this kind of mentality has been very beneficial on this new journey.
I am in love with fabrics
I wanted to learn clothes making. I am in love with fabrics and I wanted to make a whole load of outfits for myself. Being short with a curvy and fuller figure, I always had to alter my clothes. So I thought attending sewing classes was a good place to start. When the term for my sewing class ended and I did not have time to learn how to make a new garment, I thought I would try and make a fabric tote bag. I was in a way inspired by this girl who was coming for lessons and at the end of the class she would be walking out with a couple of bags she had sewn and I thought surely that should not be so hard. So, I gave it a go and I learnt the basic techniques and I nailed it. Armed with my new-found skills I started doing the same bag in different colours and added extra little details here and there. Friends and family would ask me to sell the bags to them and this is how it all started. Now I do totes, clutch purses, pouches, laptop bags, summer hats, face masks, kimonos and cushions. The fabrics are mostly tropical print, faux leather, African wax and animal print.
My design ideas and challenges
My head is buzzing with ideas all the time. At times, I will drop everything I’m doing because I have a good idea and I will not be able to go to bed until I have executed the idea and am happy with it. Then I will replicate the same design in different fabrics. Although fabrics are readily available here and the choices are endless, what is challenging for me is the embellishments —the handles, structure support, leather straps and trimmings. I am not at the stage where I can buy in big stock or import so that can be a bit limiting. When I finally complete a product, it’s a great feeling because I do them myself. Trying new ideas and winning is always extra special.
Balancing family life and my business
I have been a stay-at-home mum for a while now, so I normally sew when the kids are at school. Whilst my son is primary school age and my daughter is a teenager, their needs are different, spending time with them is very important. School run in two different schools in different directions is time consuming too. Time is limited as I work on my own. Needless to say, that growth has not been speedy, but I am OK with that.
Message for Seychelloise who wants to start a business
There are a lot of business opportunities that have not been tapped into. Maybe your idea is one of them. Don’t be afraid of failure and possible challenges that you may encounter. The reality is that you will have to face challenges along the way. See it as a part of your growth. Focus on the finished work as neatness and presentation is key. Don’t think about making money straight away, just be consistent in what you do. Go beyond and keep challenging yourself. Educate yourself on how to better your service or product. I have too often seen a great idea badly executed. For example, artefacts where people use a marker and freewrite ‘Seychelles’ on them or locally made jams put in jars that still have the sticker of the previous content. That to me is not quality or authenticity. Why not print your sticker and logo with attractive images representing your products or add a little wooden spoon in the packaging with a serving suggestion or even a little write-up about the tropical fruit used for your jam? In my opinion, all this makes a huge difference in making your products stand out from the rest. If you are brave enough, extend your business and give jam making lessons to tourists at a cost and experiment with adding different spices to make it different. I often have friends that have travelled to Seychelles saying that it is hard to find quality souvenirs to take back. Although, I must say now that I am more active on social media, I have seen a few great initiatives such as cake making and jewellery.
My vision for Soleil Kreol
I am very proud to be from Seychelles so I wanted a business name that will keep me connected to where I am from. It also has a holiday and tropical vibe to it. In hindsight, Soleil Kreol started as a hobby and only recently I started thinking of growing it after my Instagram generated so much. I started getting orders and people wanting to buy my products when I opened the Instagram account. Unfortunately, COVID-19 started and we went under lockdown and this threw me off track. I have had orders from quite a few places around the world, but the airlines were not operating and post offices were closed. The children were at home. Suddenly online schooling and chores took over most of my free time. Now that we realise that this is our new normal, we are adjusting to the change. Currently, I get orders locally through social media and word of mouth. I have started exploring the possibility of offering an online shopping experience. In the long run, I do hope to stock my goods in different shops and do pop-up stores at holiday resorts, airports and in shopping centres, starting with South Africa and Seychelles.