From pauper to owner
After joining the weaving company as a cleaner years ago, today Moses Helao is the sole owner of Karakulia Weavers, a company first established in1979 by an English Lady, Jenny Carvill.
In an exclusive interview with the Economist, an enthusiastic Helao calls himself a criminal as he crawled his way to the top. “When I first started working for the company, I was treated like a mouse. I was sent around and they would kick me as well. I was only a cleaner but I developed a passion for the art and for two years I attended art school on a part time basis until I became an assistant designer and then the assistant to the manager.”
The first owner sold the company in 2006, and the second owner started experiencing the same financial problems and struggles. It came to an end as the company closed its doors in 2009, leaving 26 people jobless.
“When the company closed down operations, everyone had left, even the manager. And on one particular day I came in with my 8-year old son just to have a look around and it wasn’t long before a tourist came in and bought a weaved carpet worth N$2,000. It was at that time that my son encouraged me to be my own boss and start my own company.”
Helao submitted his business plan to the Development Bank in 2010 and was turned down. He then decided to polish and re-submit the business plan for the company. Helao, a husband and father to three kids anxiously awaited for approval which was then granted last year.
After re-opening its doors recently, Karakulia once again employs 14 of its former 26 employees. “This is our home, it wasn’t easy at first but its getting better. The streets are full of people and with this little contribution we are doing our part in helping the country fight high unemployment and poverty rates.”
Director of the company, Helao says that business is showing remarkable progress and is at one of its most busiest times in the year. “A company like this one has grown in many ways. It took time and after having been closed for only 6-months, people still think we are non-existent and we had to start over with marketing ourselves especially at this point when tourism is growing.”
Karakulia Weavers exports most of its products to foreign clients upon request. The majority of its customers coming to the workshop are tourists from European countries, Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as a substantial support from America, South Africa and New Zealand. Roughly 5% is from the locals in Swakopmund and inland tourists.
All materials used for production is locally procured except for the cotton that is imported from South Africa. The company uses raw sheep wool from local farmers which goes through different stages of washing, carding, dyeing until ready for spinning and weaving.
Helao highlighted the importance of SME’s getting exposure and urged fellow SME’s to make the most out of SME Expo’s and exhibitions. “It can happen that you make no sales at a particular exhibition but this should not discourag you. I went to the South African Expo in July and none of our products were bought but when I came back to Namibia, we got seven orders. Expo’s are about networking and marketing.”
He says that although there is a lot of support from ministries such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry, he criticized institutions such as the NDC for trying to kill SME’s and hinder growth as the NDC does not have a rental price difference for big companies and SME’s. “Like at end of December 2012 my rent is going to be N$18326.00. How can an SME afford to pay such an amount? And you still need to pay electricity, water and employee wage. The Ministry of Trade and Industry is trying their best to uplift SME’s in the country but institutes such as the Namibia Development Cooperation is trying their to kill and cut the roots of SME’s in the country”