Considering its labour intensity and potential for developing small, micro and medium (SMME) sized businesses and exports, the South African Furniture Industry is an important sector in the South African economy. The government has recognised it as a high-growth area, with the Furniture Industry Master Plan (FIMP) being developed to stimulate and support growth in the industry. Although the contribution to GDP has been less than 1%, when it comes to job creation potential, there is generally a low subsidy required, making it an attractive industry for mass job creation.

Although cheap imports from Asian countries flood the market, the Department of Trade, Industry & Competition (dtic) has recognised the potential for the South Africa furniture sector to position itself as a producer of high-end furniture products that compete on quality and novel design. To realise this intent public-private partnerships are required to address current local industry constraints and encourage growth and competitiveness. As per the Furniture Industry Master Plan, SMMEs need to play a more significant part in this expansion but will need support to breach the entry barriers. This support will focus on 3pillars viz; Market Access, Transformation and Improvement of Competitiveness.

The Jobs Fund supports several projects that focus on addressing barriers to entry for manufacturing activities. One such intervention has been the establishment of the Riversands Incubation Hub located in the Diepsloot Industrial Development Zone. The hub’s incubation programme nurtures SMMEs by mentoring and supporting them to become fully-fledged, growth-orientated businesses. In addition to the business support provided, office space and factory space is available to SMMEs to set up their operations within a vibrant hub environment. Several manufacturing enterprises have been set up in the hub, one of which is Timeless Opulence.

Established in 2014 by qualified Chemical Engineer Cindy Malaza, Timeless Opulence makes bespoke furniture and quality custom fittings. Malaza joined the Jobs Fund funded Riversands Incubation Hub in 2019 and graduated to the Riversands Outlet Park at the beginning of 2020.

Originally from Ermelo, 35-year-old Malaza was diagnosed with a very rare disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome shortly after starting high school. The immune system attacks the network of nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord, causing weakness and possible paralysis. Determined not to let her paralysis and missed school days get in her way, she took her studies into her own hands and began homeschooling. The whole experience unleashed her thirst for knowledge and a desire to live life to the fullest.

Malaza’s path to entrepreneurship has been somewhat unexpected. She studied Chemical Engineering, a field that helped her to toughen up (a welcome trait in her entrepreneurial journey), but it ultimately wasn’t the career for her. On a whim, Malaza decided to upholster a chair and had a specific design in mind but had no idea how to do it. YouTube videos came to the rescue, and she discovered a love for the entire creative process, capitalising on an inherent knack for design.

This upholstered chair led to her new path, setting up Timeless Opulence. She started small, working from her garage, making tailored furniture items for friends and offering an interior decorating service, but her business grew with demand.

Timeless Opulence offers various services in addition to manufacturing; these include consultancy, décor, and interior design. The company supplies those looking for unique pieces for their homes, office, hotels and restaurants.

Malaza’s business showed significant success in the industry, and most of her orders come from recommendations and word of mouth from her customers. She is grateful that she has the gift of being talkative (she happily admits she’s a talker who could sell anything for anyone), as this made her business flourish: “I have a strong personality, and I like to do things in my own time”.

When her flourishing business outgrew a third venue, she knew it was time to formalise her offerings. She heard about Riversands Incubation Hub from a friend and soon realised that the location was perfect for Timeless Opulence. She received the business mentoring she needed to take her business to the next level and was even commissioned to manufacture furniture for The Canvas Riversands. Through business incubation, Malaza also learned crucial skills such as accounting, management and business banking.

Fully committed to her business venture, she kept pushing, and it paid off. She was approached by a business acquaintance about a possible collaboration in the event planning space, offering furniture for hire at events. Malaza was making furniture already, so it wasn’t a stretch to start renting out pieces of furniture. It all came together very well.

Malaza indicated that her time at the Riversands Incubation Hub had boosted the business, and she is still on a growth trajectory.

Currently, Timeless Opulence employs eight full-time staff members and three short term interns. Malaza intends to hire two of the three interns permanently since they have flourished in her factory.

Although Malaza has had success in her business, the National COVID-19 lockdown affected her operation, and she had to close the rental furniture for the events side of the company. During this time, her turnover was considerably reduced, and she survived by drawing on personal savings. Not being disheartened by the challenges, Malaza established a ready-to-go range of furniture which can be bought off the showroom floor.

When she was asked about future business expansion, she said, “Oh yes, I do plan to establish an online store with my ready-to-go range of furniture. I also have other ideas as well, which I’m not ready to share as yet”. Timeless Opulence and Malaza have embraced a strategy that sees it focus on quality, reliability, and differentiated designs.

To achieve success in the sector appropriately designed on-going support should be made available to SMMEs as well as addressing the regulatory barriers that continue to stifle SMME development. The Riversands Incubation Hub is an example of one such supportive environment, made possible through an investment from the Jobs Fund. As a result of this public-private partnership, 1,154 new permanent jobs and 1,967 new short-term jobs have been created. Appropriate SMME support builds resilience, ensuring that enterprises can better withstand economic and environmental shocks, such as COVID-19. Adapting is one of the foundational elements required to thrive, and interventions such as the Jobs Fund Riversands project provide SMMEs with these skills.