An online platform extending the reach of social upliftment projects which make handmade décor items and fashion accessories, Babazeka really is wonderful initiative. Let’s take a closer look at the woman who created this fabulous South African website and find out what motivates her, as well as the type of challenges she faces running her own business.

The urge to help people in South Africa who need it, as well as the love for all things creative, inspired Sarah-Jane Barnhoorn to set up Babazeka. Her cousin Scott Gray suggested that they create an online shop. “In terms of start-up costs it’s a far less expensive way to go, and our reach is far greater,” says Sarah-Jane. “Our initial expenses were more along the lines of opening a merchant account, joining a payment gateway service, and the outlay for initial stock. In making Scott a business partner, I managed to avoid the largest cost – namely that of the design and development of the website,” she adds.

Since its inception a year and a half ago, Babazeka’s sales have been growing slowly but steadily. “I have no doubt that they will continue to grow because of our beautiful cause, and because of the beauty in the products themselves,” says Sarah-Jane. “I’m learning to trust in the process and keep myself motivated.”

Probably the only online shop in South Africa supporting job creation, Babazeka is all about spreading love to customers and suppliers nationwide. Every product on offer is made by hand, which definitely adds to the charm of each and every unique item. “We offer beautiful things like hand-printed handbags, potato-printed cushion covers, recycled paper shoppers, hand-woven placemats and lots more,” says Sarah-Jane.

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As often as possible Sarah-Jane also sew with ladies in her local Knysna community in order to help them improve their skills and bring in some extra money. “We’re also starting up a veggie growing project soon. Babazeka is all about benefitting the community – it’s our number one aim,” she says.

Now on the second version of the website, a much more user-friendly version with a simpler and cleaner appearance than before, Babazeka has also changed the way they operate. “We no longer hold stock. Once a product is ordered by a customer, it’s made up by the project and then posted directly from them to the customer. This way there’s less risk for ourselves and our crafters,” explains Sarah-Jane.

The biggest challenge for Sarah-Jane and Babazeka is being based in a small town. “I don’t have as many people to bounce ideas off and get inspiration from as I would if I lived in Joburg or Cape Town,” she says. “Being permanently online does help with this though, as there are so many communities and forums that one can join to get advice and inspiration.”

Staying motivated during difficult times is another challenge Sarah-Jane faces. “It’s not always easy working on your own all day, keeping yourself motivated and energised. That’s where I think working with a bigger team would help, as you can encourage each other,” she explains. But on the other hand she loves being her own boss, choosing her own hours and who she’ll work with and support, as well as deciding on the direction that the business will take and what the personality of the business will be.

As for the current economic crisis, Sarah-Jane is positive. “At first I didn’t think we seemed to be affected at all, because we experienced a growth in sales in both April and May. But in the last month or so, we can definitely see that things are slowing down a lot. It’s a good time for us to re-assess where we’re heading and for me to spend more energy on the sewing and veggie projects too,” she says.

Advising fellow business owners to be patient and consistent, Sarah-Jane says “things can take time to get going, but if you’re sure that the business ties in with your values and you have clear goals, you’re bound to achieve them eventually!”

As a friend recently said to me, Babazeka is a success because it is one of the first online businesses in the country to be focused on benefitting South Africans, spreading the concept of social change and helping others. If that’s all we ever achieve, it’s enough,” says Sarah-Jane.

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