MASERU – Starting small while dreaming big is all it took for Masefants’i Mofeli to build a brand in the business world and a name for herself.
Mofeli is the proud producer of Pabala (beauty) cosmetics made from prickly pear, rosehip, blue agave, lanolin and food supplementary juices.
She supplies Basotho companies, Chinese and Indian supermarkets and individuals who resell the products in and outside the country.
Mofeli works from her kitchen using industrial equipment that she has recently acquired before which she relied solely on kitchen equipment.
Her growing business employs two permanent workers and several other part-time workers to meet growing demand which she says overwhelms her at times.
Mofeli’s initial aim was not to supply supermarkets but she couldn’t resist the temptation when she was approached by supermarket owners requesting her products.
Her original aim was to supply budding Basotho entrepreneurs only who she encourages to resell abroad claiming she seeks to create job opportunities for locals in that way.
Mofeli procures 30 percent of ingredients to produce cosmetics and 90 percent of ingredients to produces juices locally.
She was introduced to manufacturing by Topollo Lephatsoe, when he was director of the Poverty Reduction Programme (PREP) in former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office.
Lephatsoe used to travel around Lesotho and South Africa teaching people to manufacture some products and form partnerships to fight unemployment.
She said Lephatsoe took her under his wings, taught her how to manufacture cosmetics and other products and travelled the country with her, encouraging people to start businesses.
At the time, Mofeli was a media student at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, while working as a part-time office assistant in the Prime Minister’s office but was also selling different goods at the university and around town.
“While I was still working as a temporary office assistant, I learned a lot of skills from one of my colleagues who was very knowledgeable about manufacturing a lot of things, including cosmetics and many others.
“Ntate Lephatsoe invited me to workshops where he taught different communities ways to survive by manufacturing some products from scratch. This is where I perfected my skills.
“The training and being able to produce from scratch fascinated me so much that I managed to learn and can proudly announce that I can manufacture among others tomato sauce, body lotion, glycerin, Vaseline, yoghurt, roll on, hair spray, soya mince and many others.
“The Government sent me to Cape Town, China and other countries to learn more about production of goods from scratch,” she said.
To give back to her community, she formed 30 co-operatives in Abia, to improve livelihoods.
Mofeli also went around the country encouraging partnerships in villages and transferring her skills to villagers for free.
Although the project has not taken off as fast as anticipated due to financial constraints, more can still be achieved and one can start a brand using the available resources, she says.
Born 36 years ago and raised in Lenyakoane, Leribe by Mamoliehi and Mphelleng Ntjabane as Nyalleng Ntjabane among four sibblings, Mofeli moved to Abia in Maseru with her husband after getting married.
Mofeli confesses at first she doubted she could make a living from either manufacturing cosmetics and juices or that she could make it as an entrepreneur.
But she was determined to make money and aimed to work hard to make some.
“Being an entrepreneur was never my dream career because I wanted to be a nurse when growing up but due to lack of knowledge and exposure to available opportunities for me to further my studies despite bad results attained at Form E, the opportunity passed me by and I ended up studying a course I hated for seven years.
“I grew up taking every opportunity that came by to make some money. I think this I inherited from my father Felleng Ntjabane who is business oriented and believes money is never enough and does all in his power to make more.
“My father worked in the South African Mines for years, all that time, he was selling cold drinks, cigarettes, fruit and vegetables at the mines after his shift. This he is still doing even after being retrenched,” Mofeli said.
After obtaining a third class pass without English Language from Holy Names High School in 2002, Mofeli failed to go to university to study nursing but enrolled for a diploma in Mass Communication at Institute of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS).
Mofeli hated the course but pursued it for three years.
She said during her studies she felt unfulfilled and often skipped classes to sell goods to students and to seek part-time jobs.
After graduating, she enrolled at LUCT hoping to change the course but her grades restricted her to mass communication.
“This meant being stuck in a media course for another four years. My hatred for the career path I was taking grew on a daily basis and discovering the struggles that surround it I decided to continue with my part-time jobs and selling which saw me dodging classes even more and as a result my performance dropped,” she said.
Mofeli’s childhood dream was to be an employer but that vanished as she grew up and only resurfaced during her struggles selling on the streets and in schools.
She said after failing to get a job upon graduating she decided to put to use the skills she had acquired and create job opportunities for Basotho.
She is currently a holder of a diploma in Mass Communication from IEMS and Honors Degree in Journalism and Broadcasting from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.
But these qualifications are not useful to her and she is planning to build a factory soon.
She started her business with a M500 outlay, used her family pots and stove to produce cosmetics but with perseverance she grew her business.
She said the challenge with ingredients found in the country is not only that they are rare and seasonal but also because they now have lost their quality because of the severe drought the country has been experiencing.
Like any other entrepreneur, Mofeli has had a share of her own challenges. One of them she says is the cloning of her products which leaves her customers confused.
She said despite having intellectual property rights to her brand, she still comes across products named after hers with colours identical to hers.
However, apart from the name ‘Pabala’ meaning beauty, her brand can be identified with blue, white and black colours and a brand name DANOM formed from the names of her two daughters.
Mofeli says the unemployed – both skilled and unskilled – who struggle to start businesses or put their skills into practice because of lack of funds should use available resources to start businesses.
“It does not matter how small one starts, what matters is perseverance and determination. We all have to start somewhere in order to achieve our goals. Let us get to work with what we have and partner to work towards a common goal,” she said.