Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|February 2, 2021|10 Minutes|In Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur

The American girl with an African Soul

How this one-of-a-kind gem born in Washington State, traveled the world only to disrupt the shoe industry in South Africa.

Jinae Heyns, seems relaxed on this rainy summer day under the roof of her sophisticated shoe and clothing factory in the heart of Cape Town. She is the energetic 34-year-old, married to her co-founder, who runs a unique African E-commerce clothing store, Matsidiso.

In the world of high fashion, quick takes, and fast sales, it is extremely rare to find a business that handcrafts its shoes from sustainable wood and leather.

Matsidiso is a mix between a startup and a well-established manufacturing business. The story begins with Mrs. Heyns’ mother-in-law many moons ago, producing beautifully crafted traditional South African clothing. Unfortunately, difficult times fell over the family. This is when Mr. and Mrs. Heyns took over the business.

No longer was Matsidiso a simple clothing store with a small storefront at the V&A Waterfront. This became a high-flying E-commerce operation, selling luxury African fashion items globally, from the United States to Singapore generating four million Rand in revenue annually.

What is more extraordinary is the co-founder. Heyns does not strike you as the one to take a moment’s breath or stop working no matter the circumstances. The question I find myself asking is, would anything be able to stop her? This characteristic explains the name, Matsidiso, perfectly, an explanation on that later.

However, to fully understand this Cape Townoian ‘cobbler’, one must walk in her shoes.

Born as the third and final child to Mr. and Mrs. Niles in small-town Goldendale, Washington state. Her father was a railroad engineer and her mother in the medical field, she was not interested in either of these careers.

As she reminisces her past, the questions flow. What gave rise to your passion for fashion?

“At the age of 6 when everyone else was playing, I would be watching the runway!”

Mrs. Heyns excitingly explains how “fashion is an art form. It is a way of expressing yourself, the more culture the better.”

However, the path did not always lead to fashion as when asked, what did you dream of doing when growing up? She interestingly explained.

“It was between three career paths.”

“Photography journalist with a focus on wildlife.”

“Marine biologist”

“Fashion Designer.”

One may ask which degree encompasses these three random possible career paths? Marketing.

Heyns went north, towards on the border of Canada, where she would complete a degree in a Bachelor of Arts, Business Administration, and Management from Western Washington University

Once she achieved her credentials in creativity, it was now time to achieve an unofficial credential in experiences.

“I went backpacking across South America, I touched base in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and a couple of other countries. But after this, I felt it was time to go home.”

She was not home for long, the urge to travel burned. However, with low financial resources, the best way to travel was to “become a teacher, teaching English in South Korea. This is where I met my South African born husband, Christian Heyns.”

They fell in love and moved back to South Africa. First Heyns assisted her mother-in-law with the store and set up an online presence. This was before a brief venture into the corporate world where she felt unhappy under someone who was not the ‘boss of the year’. The revelation was to go back to Matsidiso, and she has never looked back.

What is the purpose of Matsidiso?

“This is a question I have struggled with and pondered. I have had a tough time discovering this.”

A moment passes and her response is as blissful as her shoes.

“We believe all should love what they have, there is no need to go out and buy tons of shoes and look after none. Instead, buy a few beautiful pairs of shoes and care for them.”

Matsidiso’s shoes are no ordinary sneakers, they stand out of the crowd, mainly because the person wearing them will be at the front of the crowd. “We target higher income earner with a specific focus on the woman.”

She smiles and says, “Our team mainly comprises of women.”

How do you, the leader, deal with COVID-19 and keep the team strong?

“With a lot of mediation and some evening wine.”

After a little giggle, her answer was as surprising as their gorgeous clothing line.

“Well, there were so many stressful years before COVID, that 2020 just seemed like another year, if not a better year.”

Matsidiso’s response to the outbreak was pivot, and pivot fast. In April they were one of the first to begin mask production, “over 100 000 masks produced per month, however that market became overly saturated.”

After this Heyns ensured the website was prepared for a large increase in online shopping.

“We improved our systems, ensured location accurate websites, an international and local version, most importantly we advertised aggressively.”

The website may have become the best it could be, but without a team at the factory, no clothes would be sold. Heyns understood this more than most, she is a social entrepreneur to the core.

“Our team does not comprise of employees; it comprises of family.”

With South Africa’s difficult socio-economic situation coupled with severe lockdowns throughout the year, a team comprising mostly of woman unfortunately experience horrific times.

“Work isn’t just work in South Africa, often it is a safe place. It is difficult for a manager always to get involved, but a manager can always listen,” she calmly told.

Employee morale and retention is considerably high at Matsidiso ensuring high effectiveness and efficiency.

This nibble 21st-century business was able to react quickly to COVID as to not only survive but to thrive. The reason behind this success the entrepreneurial mentality behind her success.

“Never stop looking for opportunities, even when things are going well.” In doing this one ensures success in the best and worse times.

What is your main goal going forward?

“Growing the brand internationally is the goal.”

To achieve scale Matsidiso will be undergoing some changes. The factory will be spun out into its own business. The reasoning behind this decision is to allow greater independence. Matsidiso will purchase the shoes from the factory but the factory will be able to produce more products for other outlets.

In the spirit of social entrepreneurship, the factory employees will own half of the shares in this new business.

After the factory is separated Matsidiso will have an easier path to mass scale, without forgetting its roots.

Their roots?

“Our suppliers really give a damn!” Heyns exclaims as she provides an overview of their roots.

“All our raw materials are responsibly and sustainably sourced.”

However, this is fashion. The most important aspect is the look and feel.

“Our shoes look original; they express South African culture. Most importantly they do not feel as if they are 3D printed mass-produced items. They feel earthy!”

Watch out Gucci, Matsidiso is on the rise.

And if it any did not figure it out yet; Matsidiso is Sotho for success after difficulty.

A resilient name, a resilient team, a resilient founder; a cocktail for success.