When you visit White Feather Creations’ website, you are met with a long and motley list of clients using the services of this Namibian-based tailoring, embroidery, and uniform manufacturing company. The Covenant Reconciliation and Life Abundant Ministry is there right along with Windhoek Prison Correctional Services, the Bank of Namibia and Faleniko Evangeli Choir to name just a few. It’s an impressive clientele that owner Mathilde Taati Ishitile has worked long and hard to win over.
“I saw a great demand for textiles and garments and related services such as printing and embroidery from both corporate and individual clients so I set about creating my niche and chasing tenders. Building your client profile is a slow and difficult process and it’s not easy to put yourself out there, especially when you don’t win the job, but as we apply our learnings and build relationships, our list continues to grow,” says the quiet but confident business owner.
“I literally began one shirt at a time, allowing my skills to grow and, as I got more work, progressively hiring staff.”
The middle of three, Mathilde was born in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, but was raised in the north by her grandmother. As a teenager, she moved back to the city to attend high school followed by a two-year certificate and a national diploma in commerce from the Polytechnic of Namibia. Mathilde has always dreamed of owning her own business – inspired by a mother who is still self-employed at 68 years – and was something of a Jill-of-all-trades with years of experience in marketing, sales, customer care, advertising, real estate, and even butchery, before finally settling on fashion and design.
“I found myself away from home a lot with my real estate job. I built the butchery business on the side as an extra money earner. But with three kids, all of whom are quite active, I couldn’t cope with running two business simultaneously. The butchery was more stable and demanded less travel so I chose that. But I always dreamed of getting into fashion and finally when the chance came to register for a diploma in fashion and pattern-making at the Change Institution, I jumped,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was on a maternity leave with my youngest baby, so I enrolled in the course and six months into the program, the business was born.”
White Feather Creations & Deco CC is a tailoring and garment manufacturing company. The firm manufactures a plethora of clothes, including school uniforms, corporate wear, church and graduation gowns, work clothes, and sports attire, and more recently expanded to printing and embroidery services. Mathilde financed operations with her own funds supplemented by a “very supportive husband” when needed. When the manufacturing facility was launched, the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development and Khomas Regional Council provided operating equipment that enabled her to expand her service offerings. Started with just one seamstress, the business today employs over 16 staff – a majority of whom are single mothers – with operations expanding in the near future.
“I literally began one shirt at a time, allowing my skills to grow and, as I got more work, progressively hiring staff. Bringing on an experienced design and pattern-maker to oversee operators was critical because I really needed someone with knowledge and experience in this position. Together, we hired other people to support him and, for the last five and one half years, we have built the operation and developed a business that enables men and women to improve their lives through skills development and employment.”
Two other critical success factors for the 42-year-old were her participation in femTECH training, sponsored by the Finnish government to help women understand how to run a business using technology, and her selection to the US State Department’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) Africa where she received professional development, leadership training, and access to key networks. These life-changing opportunities encouraged Mathilde to join the Katuka Mentorship Program and give back in her own way.
“Katuka empowers and encourages women entrepreneurs through relationship building. I started as a mentee and remain very close to my mentors, Heidi von Hase, Kahoo Kandjoze, and Lawrence Haw, all of whom continue to provide me with guidance and wisdom. Then I signed up as a mentor myself and am still active in the programme. I’m also developing a women’s empowerment programme for those in rural areas bringing women with access to sewing machines together with those who have tailoring and pattern-making skills. Despite my own business challenges, I’m dedicated to being one of the women who will change the business landscape for others, particularly disadvantaged women, in Namibia.”
Those challenges? Like many on the continent, it’s finding qualified and properly trained staff to support the production, planning, and management of the business. As Namibia imports textiles, White Creations must thoroughly vet and plan around the supply chain to ensure they can meet production targets. The other hurdle, common to a majority of African women entrepreneurs, is financing.
“We have used our own organic growth to expand operations. This means we develop in a very controlled manner. The downside is that sometimes we are unable to bid for larger orders, but we continue to set our eyes on growth.”
Nevertheless, sharing her story like this is not something with which the mother of three is totally comfortable. Mathilde is trying to overcome her fear of public speaking as she knows she plays an important role in being an inspiration for others.
“Starting my own business has given me a great sense of satisfaction, but I recognize the responsibility being a business owner brings, especially when it comes to my staff and customers. My motto is ‘Do your best today and do even better tomorrow, be kind to others and build loving and supporting relationships.’ This together with God’s blessing has been a foundation stone upon which I have built and continue to grow my business.”
And with all those churches and choirs in her client list, Mathilde is certainly impressing someone upstairs.
- Seek and you will find your dreams!
- Pace yourself. Start with small steps, learn, learn more, apply your learnings!
- Build relationships and find mentors you can trust and with whom you can grow.
- Communication with clients is key. Naturally problems can arise, but if you inform your customers and keep them in the loop, you avoid surprise disappointments and maintain good relations.