Unathi and I met last year through the group Brownsense where she needed some input concerning her decor business. We moved our discussion to email and I, eventually, gave her a call. We discussed the opportunities for black business owners in Cape Town’s wedding industry and talked about forming a partnership. I mentioned that I would be moving to Cape Town, where she was based, and we promised to keep in touch. Fast forward to almost a year later and we finally meet. I took some pictures and sat down to chat with her over a cup of tea:
Me: Tell me a bit about yourself. Who are you and what brought you to Cape Town?
Unathi: I’m from Knysna – born and raised. Of three children I was the only girl. I came to Cape Town for my tertiary studies and met my future husband during my third year. Fortunately for me, I landed a job straight after university, having gotten married just a few months prior.
Me: What was going on in your head?! Married in your third year??? You’re a brave woman!
Unathi: (Chuckles) We married traditionally in 2010 and had our ‘white’ wedding in 2012.
Me: Back to your business. You’re very creative. Is there anything in your background or upbringing that may have influenced that?
Unathi: I grew up in a township and our home was a shack. I’m certain there were, at most, no more than five homes made of brick and mortar. My mother was a single mom and a domestic worker, and still is. She and my dad separated before I was born but I knew his family. He was, kind of, a rolling stone…so I saw him very sporadically. Fortunately, home was walking distance from his family’s home, so I visited my aunts and grandmother often and, consequently, have a very close relationship with them.
Because we were all poor in my neighbourhood, it took me becoming an adult to realise that I was actually poor! I thought I was normal. If my mom couldn’t afford to get me something or do something for me, it was not too much of a big deal. I remember that there were a few kids who went to Model C schools, and a part of me envied them, but that was uncommon. If you had a parent who was something like a prison warder, that was a big deal! We had very few teachers and nurses, etc. I loved school though and was quite popular among my peers. I had this idea to become a Chartered Accountant ( I’m not even sure how I knew what that was) and I’m now a qualified Auditor. But the decor thing…No childhood connection at all.
Me: That’s quite interesting. I have a theory that the more insulated we are from the crowd the happier we’re most likely to be. This global village in which we have ‘access’ to people from all walks of life, isn’t always good for us, because we measure ourselves against our peers. My peer is Khloe Kardashian and I simply don’t measure up! Anyway, I digress, back to you…Would you say growing up in the background you come from has given you an advantage, as a business owner, in the space in which you compete?
Unathi: Definitely. For example, if someone says they would like an African themed wedding reception, I already have a picture of what they mean before I have the brief. I have the advantage of diversity of culture. I understand our ‘European’ culture and our African culture. What has also helped is my financial expertise. I know how to determine whether I’ll make a profit or a loss and, therefore, I quote for jobs correctly.
Me: That’s definitely something that all small businesses need to get right and a lot of us tend to struggle with it. Now that you have your foundation laid, where to from here?
Unathi: My goal is to get to a place where I’m operating across South Africa but that’s the long term plan. In the short term, I want to be a household name in the decor space, particularly the Western Cape. I want to build the sort of business that people want to be associated with.
With such a strong work ethic and drive, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows of Acquilla Functions. I look forward to our next interview and hearing more about this wonderful journey of self-discovery and expression.