From one woman on a laptop in her bedroom to an established brand with a R2million turnover, Westrand Safety is flourishing into a thriving business. Managing Director and Owner of Westrand Safety, Akona Gwele, fully believes that every challenge is another stepping stone to success. And with Seed Academy providing support in funding and mentorship, there was nothing that was going to hold her back.
IT BEGAN WITH UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS
As a qualified engineer, Akona regularly travelled to various sites across Sub-Saharan Africa for her work in the petroleum, engineering, medical, and beverage industries. And while her travels provided her with excellent experience, she was concerned about the lack of safety wear in the workplace. It was a recurring theme that she was determined to address.
In 2015, with a laptop and her own savings, Akona founded Westrand Uniforms & Safety and took her first steps in becoming a safety wear supplier in South Africa. “This is an industry that has plenty of room for new players, and we’re hungry for success. But penetrating a male-dominated market has its own set of complexities, and I knew we needed to get serious about every detail of the business,” says Akona.
THE NEXT STEPPING STONE
When Seed Academy stepped in with a tailor-made mentorship programme for Akona as well as a R60k grant for Westrand Safety, Akona knew exactly what she wanted to achieve: from the very beginning, she was open with her mentors about her dreams.
The grant made it possible for her to purchase the equipment needed to manufacture their own uniforms, while the mentorship included helping Akona navigate the process of starting a new factory, to make decisions about the right equipment and production lines, and to put sustainable structures and best practices in place.
Over and above the manufacturing, Akona’s personalised mentorship programme covered the financial aspects of the business as well as sales and marketing. Akona says she truly appreciated the scope of the mentorship. “And more than the scope, everything felt so practical. I gained insights into closing the deal, techniques in aftersales service, and practical tools to grow our business. There was so much value, and I really enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with my mentors.”
Essentially, Akona says, “It was a very big step for me in realising where I am now, and where I want to be.”
REALISING THE DREAM
Akona proudly counts Anglo American, City Power, and Sun Time Square among her clients. The company is flying towards its R2 million annual turnover mark, it’s more than doubled its staff and has diversified into manufacturing uniforms. Westrand Safety has a solid reputation for quality while Akkona herself is setting trends with her natural flair for designs for women.
“The business is looking more positive than ever,” Akona says. “We’re not just growing, we’re now striving to go global. We particularly want to grow our distributorship into Sub-Saharan Africa, and I have no doubt that we can achieve that.”
One of the greatest things Akona says she got from the Seed programme was a boost in her own confidence and the confirmation that this truly is the right path for her.
“Seed Academy has made me realise my dream, and every day I say thank you so much.”
- Program: Enterprise Development
- Stats (November 2021- December 2022):
- Revenue: doubled from R1m to R2m annually
- Jobs: doubled part-time employees from 2 to 4
- Clients: 1 long-term contract secured; 3 once-off projects secured
- Growth plans: expanding into Sub-Saharan Africa