But in the end it was through the clothing industry that she did manage to move on, and spectacularly so. Not only has she managed to build her own fast-growing brand, but she has had the satisfaction of seeing her business empower thousands of women, many of them struggling single moms themselves.
“Clothing was the only thing I knew,” says Brenda, who studied fashion and clothing design and had spent her working life in the clothing industry. In order to make ends meet, she was forced to fall back on it, but she also vowed that her new venture was going to be premised on the empowerment of the women.
She set up some machines in her father’s back yard in Retreat, Cape Town, and worked on a few designs for women’s garments.
She took the samples to the flea markets in the centre of Cape Town and asked some stall holders to keep her garments on consignment, just to see what the market reaction would be.
Soon, she started getting phone calls from the stall holders to come and fetch her money, and to bring them some more garments.
“I seemed to have hit the nail on the head,” says Brenda of her designs, which she describes as trendy, but also timeless, made from brightly coloured but un-patterned, high-quality fabrics. Crucially, and in line with her philosophy that everything about her business must serve the true needs of women, her clothes come in the entire range of shapes and sizes, from several sizes smaller than the usual ranges to several sizes larger.
From the start, the market could not seem to get enough of her brand, called Hot Sugar Style, and Brenda’s struggle became one of meeting demand.
As soon as the potential of the business became apparent and the orders threatened to become overwhelming, Brenda called in the help of her younger brother Clive, who at the time was running a small engraving kiosk in a local mall.
Clive’s strength lies on the financial side of business, which made him an excellent fit as business partner for Brenda, who was able to focus all her attention on design and production.
While they were still producing for the flea markets, Brenda and Clive got a phone call that changed the direction of the business.
A resourceful trader who had discovered Hot Sugar Style on the Cape Town flea markets somehow managed to track them down, and placed an order for multiple garments to resell in the Eastern Cape.
Clive remembers: “We didn’t even have a bank account at that stage, so we asked her to send money through Shoprite (financial services), and we shipped our first consignment of clothing via courier.”
It was the start of an amazing network of resellers that Brenda and Clive managed to build, mostly through word-of-mouth and driven by the popularity of Brenda’s designs. More than 7000 mostly women throughout South Africa are linked to Hot Sugar Style on WhatsApp, through which they place their orders and get regular updates about new styles as they become available.
Today, Hot Sugar Style employs four women who do nothing else but taking orders and communicating with their growing network via WhatsApp.
At first Brenda started off by employing her own team of machinists to make her garments, but soon found that the time it took to manage and build a production team took her focus off her real strength - her designs that made Hot Sugar Style such a success. Today they outsource all their production to local cut-make-and-trim (CMT) workshops in Cape Town while keeping a few machines going to create samples.
Even though they outsource production, Hot Sugar Style has long ago outgrown its humble beginnings in Brenda and Clive’s parental back yard.
Today they rent a show room from Business Partners Limited, the leading small-business risk financier in South Africa, where traders are able to view the new designs before they place their orders.
One of the problems they faced when they were still producing garments in-house was theft of Brenda’s designs. She discovered that some of the machinists whom she was trying to empower were stealing her designs and making her garments on the side.
Brenda knows that outsourcing the production of her garments to CMTs does not take away the risk of the theft of her designs, but it is a sign of the growing strength of the Hot Sugar Style brand that the occasional copying of her designs does not matter anymore. Today, their strength lies in the constant introduction of new designs and their formidable growing network of resellers.