Xolani Tshezi, the founder of ZaZa eyewear, has managed to turn his deep love for sunglasses into a viable business.
By: Musa ‘Gift’ Mqwashu
All images supplied
The young entrepreneur, affectionately known as Ntwana e Blind, started selling the Zaza Eyewear on social media and managed to cultivate a loyal customer base that also shares the same love for chic sunglasses.
Xolani accredits the success of the eyewear to him offering his customers a wide variety of products to choose from. “I am forever changing my stuff. You can never confirm what I have in store next; my designs are forever changing”, he tells Blacklight during a virtual interview.
“I have been selling sunglasses since 2009 when I was in varsity; we used to do this as a way of making money to support ourselves as students.”
Xolani sources his sunglasses in China and ships his merchandise in a container. “I have got an agent who sources the sunglasses for me. They have a generic catalogue where I choose what I’d like to have, looking at costs and quality, what’s new and what’s not,” he explains.
“Even though the sunglasses are not manufactured locally, people have to understand that we as a country do not have the necessary equipment to sustain and maintain such an industry.”
While he acknowledges these constraints, Xolani also hopes that his brand becomes a herald for many aspiring dreamers. “My story is to tell the black child that anything is possible and that our dreams are valid.”
Growing up loving sunglasses, having to buy Ray-Ban, and a list of other dope brands, with a keen sense of fashion and style, I have always yearned to own my pair of glasses.
“I want to get to the point where I design my very own sunglasses from scratch, have my own thing, and battle the likes Ray-Ban and Spitfire eyewear.”
With his sense of style, a knack for design, and the vast world that is social media, Xolani keeps a sharp eye on the latest style trends and, at times, is ahead of the local trends.
“As a teenager, I used to be a blogger; you’d go to the internet café and stay there for hours, checking out different websites and eyewear.” With the internet now becoming so accessible and a necessity, Xolani says he spends most of the time researching style trends and promoting his business.
“I promote everything I do on social media, and the work is received pretty well, but I don’t think I have applied myself [fully] into that field.” He also makes use of the WhatsApp business App, which he says makes it very easy for him to sell and interact with clients. However, he reveals that his in the process of creating his website, which will serve as an online-eyewear-store. “With that in place, I will be able to, simultaneously, connect everything else I am doing into that platform,” he shares.
Like any other small business owner, Xolani has surmounted challenges, like keeping up with the unpredictable supply and demand, “With my business, I still feel that there is more demand right now than supply. I am still in that process of understanding supply and demand and getting my way around has been a challenge.”
For instance: “you can design something that is dope, and then the design gets to a different supplier’s hands, and they start manufacturing the same thing.”
Xolani also had great difficulty penetrating the retail space as there can be a lot of red tape and barriers to entry. “For me to get into Morningside Pharmacy and the other couple of retail pop-ups, I had to go back and knock at all the relationships I have created before my time of wanting to be in the retail industry.
“The person that I am working with, who is solely responsible for putting me in these different shopping malls, is a person that I met ten years back. Pop-ups were on my bucket list for this year. I wanted to have at least three pop-up stores in three shopping malls by the end of this year. We are currently on two, and Jabulani Mall is next.”
Before going the entrepreneurial route, Xolani worked at Primedia, where he got exposed to valuable information about the retail industry. “That has made my journey slightly easier than it would have if I did not know anyone else in the field.”
Apart from his then 9-5 job at Primedia, Xolani has also dabbled in events, hosting the Inner City Picnics, which he decided to halt after struggling to gain popularity in the highly competitive events industry.
“I needed to be a popular personality for people to know about Inner City Picnic,” he explains. “It forced me to create an alter ego on social media just to maintain a level of quality and consistency that is required.” He then made a bold move into a new business sector and had to start from scratch. “I needed to unplug myself and think of an idea that will separate me from all that, a business that can stand on its own.”
Xolani believes that every entrepreneur needs to possess the quality of a chameleon to attain success – they must have the ability to adapt. “[Entrepreneurs must be able to adapt and be willing to learn and apply those lessons.” Another key quality that he says every entrepreneur needs to possess is “consistency” and “a clear vision.”
“Sometimes as entrepreneurs, we tend to do things for money, but I have come to a point in my life where I found something I love doing. We have been tricked into this slave mentality of looking for jobs instead of creating jobs.”
“I started so many things before this venture that have either failed or that I have just neglected, purely because I felt it was not the right time and I had no clear vision of what I wanted.”
Xolani also highlights the importance of mentorship relationships, especially for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. “It’s easier when you get it from someone around you who is either business-minded or has been on the same journey before.
He adds: “You have to go through a series of starting establishments and failing until you become well-rounded before creating something that succeeds.”
Xolani says that there are still missing gaps and lack of access to information in the entrepreneurial sectors, which still need to be addressed or rectified for young businesses to thrive. “The gap is the lack of knowledge on how to get to the next level, and it has been omitted by the gatekeepers.
“The know-how on getting into the retail space and having your product on the shelves, that process needs to be taught in seminars,” he continues.
With the global pandemic; coronavirus (covid-19, forcing most young businesses to shut down indefinitely, it has made it relatively hard for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. “The pandemic made me think ahead and try to expose myself in different ways through the internet; it helped me with the imagination process.”
The driven man cites his mother as his greatest source of motivation, which has inspired him to keep pushing barriers. “She may not be the richest woman in the world, but she is rich in her heart, and she keeps me grounded.”
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