Mapholo Ratau’s gifted eye for fashion, her heart for culture and upliftment and her head for business have seen Ledikana, her fashion brand of contemporary African garments and accessories, expand into wide-ranging markets, both locally and globally.
Ledikana was established because Mapholo had seen a gap in the market for ready-to-wear contemporary African clothing. “I hated having to look for someone to make me an outfit every time there was an occasion,” she explains. “I decided I could operate like the major clothing retailers, but with a premium brand that celebrates South African cultures. I started in 2011 – and the rest is history.”
Ledikana manufactures and retails clothing, hats, bags, shawls, masks, and other items for women, men and children, using shweshwe print, leather, beads, and even porcupine quills, for international leisure and business travellers, for corporate gifting and branding, and for the local market. Retail outlets are located in the upmarket Melrose Arch precinct and at OR Tambo International Airport.The business has a team of 10 full-time employees, and a network of women “most of whom are sole breadwinners and retired pensioners based in rural areas in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, who handcraft Ledikana’s range of products according to designs we provide. Style and quality are the consistent focus throughout the manufacturing process,” says Mapholo.
Ledikana is committed to empowering rural women and child-headed households, as well as disabled learners, with experience and skills, in response to the concept of ubuntu and the spirit of giving back. “Unemployment is a huge challenge in our country and we hope that by hiring and providing work experience to disabled youth who are often disregarded in the workplace, we are making a difference.”
Ledikana has created a range of culturally authentic collections, the most recent of which is called Babina Noko, inspired by Bapedi culture. “Noko means porcupine, and it’s one of the nation’s totems. Porcupine quills are incorporated into my designs to symbolise the Bapedi’s rich heritage. Our popular Babina Noko product range includes wine and champagne bags, cosmetic bags and headwraps, beach bags, scarves, shawls and blankets.”
Mapholo and Ledikana are participating in the Absa Lionesses Xpo, a sophisticated virtual platform designed to showcase products and services from over 100 of South Africa’s leading women-owned businesses to corporate buyers and decision-makers. The Xpo will launch with a dynamic, interactive event on Thursday, 29 October, and will be open to virtual visitors for several months thereafter. Lionesses of Africa (LoA) is a Public Benefit Corporation that empowers leading female entrepreneurs of Africa, the ‘Lionesses’, to create game-changing impact for the continent.
Mapholo participated in last year’s Lionesses of Africa Demo Day in November, another collaborative initiative between Absa and Lionesses of Africa, and says the show gave her business a boost. “I enjoyed excellent coverage through Lionesses of Africa in social media, I was able to network with amazing women entrepreneurs, I engaged with potential clients in various industries, and I became an Absa client. Through the demo day, I also participated in the B2B networking webinar this year.”
Mapholo anticipates that this year’s Absa Lionesses Xpo will enable Ledikana to reach new markets, find new business opportunities, engage with buyers, and “give Ledikana a great push towards business growth.” She adds, “Now is the time for me to do intensive planning, and to develop a business plan for successful growth for my company.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic this year, Mapholo says her company survived by manufacturing cloth face masks and other PPE products, designed to appeal to the general public and businesses in the travel and hospitality sector. “Our business and operation model had to change quickly – and our online store became successful for the first time since it was launched in 2018. We contributed to reducing the spread of the pandemic and to ensuring that Ledikana remains a viable business throughout these trying times.”
Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and CEO, says Mapholo Ratau has a strong brand that stands out from the crowd. “Mapholo has created a design ethos for her brand that resonates uniquely with local and international clients, and which has encouraged expanded market opportunities for her business. We have enjoyed seeing Mapholo’s tireless commitment to building her business and her brand, while empowering others as Ledikana grows. She is an inspiration to many other women entrepreneurs in Africa who aspire to follow in her footsteps, and we wish her continued success on her business and brand-building journey.”
To find out more about Ledikana, connect with Mapholo Ratau live at the Absa Lionesses Xpo platform.
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