In a recent article that covered the most popular clothing items for Zimbabwean small businesses we mentioned crochet and knitwear as a very popular clothing item. Now we have the pleasure of providing the pudding that is the proof of this success. Ella Apparel is a crochet and knitwear business run by a young woman Eleanor Tsunga. Ella Apparel provides quality pieces of clothing and the business does a little more than just clothe people. I caught up with Eleanor and she provided some insight on the business. These are my findings.
Clothing and more
Ella apparel is a young business only established two years ago according to Eleanor though she says she’s been knitting and crocheting since she was young. The business started operating in October 2019 as Eleanor wanted to marry her passion for fashion with her skills. And as you look at the Ella apparel pieces you can see it instantly that you are looking at a labour of love. The business was started out of personal which she says were very hard to let go of but as you will see it’s surely not something she regrets. She describes their offering as luxury handmade crochet and knit clothing and home décor.
The business journey
After starting the business with personal savings the journey has been challenging. One of the major challenges she cites is the funding. With such humble beginnings and the nature of the work, employing knitters to do the work is costly. Add to that a lot of the work are custom made pieces to customer specifications. This has forced Eleanor to wear many hats and do lot of learning right on the coalface. The baptism by fire has been a trial but one she has certainly come out of stronger.
Of course there are the challenges we all know of running a business in Zimbabwe, Ella apparel experiences those. Closer to home she talks about the delicate situation of custom made or hand-crafted products and how this doesn’t always match with customers expectations. Pricing the products is very difficult as people may not fully appreciate what goes into creating a single piece to specifications. Someone doing this with a machine or creating generic pieces would do this much quicker and therefore have a lower labour cost. Educating her customers on her process has been the answer to mitigating this somewhat. It doesn’t hurt when customers do see other works and the quality that speaks so loudly.
Eleanor was a contestant on the pilot episode of the Zimtrade Eaglenest show, an export accelerator program that features youth owned businesses. After making it to the stage where she bravely stood in front of industry captains the business did not make it past that round. She however counts the experience as having taught her a lot and even calls it transformational. I guess this means she will heed the judges advice and come back for the next edition with an improved pitch.
Eleanor looks brightly to the future with the goal of making Ella apparel a household name. As mentioned earlier the business employs knitters on an ad-hoc basis. Growing the order book would provide stable income and employment for knitters. As a woman run business Ella apparel is also about empowering women and Eleanor specifically states this as a future goal. The young business is another great example of a Zebra business. As a word of advice to those who have a business idea they are waiting to act on she says take action. “There’s a reason why that business idea has been on your mind for so long. Start it and give it a fighting chance.”
As a personal observation, the approach to quality really sets Ella apparel apart from many others in the market. The quality in the products is clear for the eye to see and as a value proposition, it really connects with people. You can find Ella apparel on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp to enquire about getting your custom made knit or crochet piece from her.