AT the age of 16, business acumen already ran in Mrs Mary Madzima’s veins. Identifying opportunities, sourcing markets, honing marketing skills and bookkeeping as well as balancing various tasks are some of the skills that were imparted to her by her mother at a tender age. From humble beginnings where she would help her mother do knitwear for sale to establishing her own factory, Navidale Textiles Private Ltd, Mrs Madzima’s story is that of hard work, perseverance and believing in breaking the glass ceiling. Our business reporter, Enacy Mapakame (EM) caught up with Mrs Madzima (MM) at her factory in Harare and discussed her journey to being a successful entrepreneur as well as the challenges that her organisation are facing in the current economic environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Madzima showing off samples of school uniforms at Navidale factory

EM: Who is Mary Madzima?

MM: I was born on the 6th of December, 1962. I am married with three children

Growing up, I would help my mother knit jerseys that we would sell at the end of every month in mining towns like Zvishavane.
From an early age of 16, I learnt to be a hard worker, never to expect any handouts from anyone, but to identify business opportunities around me. I would help my mother knit jerseys throughout the night.
This is how we also managed to raise school fees as a family. My parents taught me that if I want to eat sadza, then I must grow the maize.
EM: What is the history that led to the formation of Navidale? How did it all begin?
MM: More than two decades ago when I was working as a bookkeeper for Coopers and Lybrand, I recognised an opportunity while taking a walk in the central business district during lunch break. I saw a jersey in a shop, and given my background, this automatically excited me.
On enquiring with shop attendants, I realised their supplier had stopped production and this was a golden opportunity for me. I visited the former supplier and made an arrangement to purchase two of their old machines.
We started working from my backyard knitting jerseys until we grew and moved to Msasa where we shared a factory with other tenants.
That was in 1996 and since then, I never looked back despite the discouragement from some sectors of the society, until we managed to build our own factory here.
EM: What is Navidale’s core business and what inspired you to pursue this line of business?
MM: We specialise in knitwear for schools, corporate and uniformed forces. We have now diversified to include tracksuits, boxer shorts and floppy hats for schools.
Personally, knitwear has been my passion since I was a young girl and when I saw an opportunity, I decided to take advantage of it. In addition to that, I realised the market was being flooded by imports, so we now want to produce something that surpasses the quality of those uniforms imported into the country at competitive prices.
This is how we can contribute to our economy and keep the industry running.
EM: How big is Navidale and what are your production volumes?
MM: We were only eight when we started this business, but we are now 50. In a month, we produce at least 6 600 jerseys. We are still growing.
Our first client was Adam and Sons and our market has grown to various schools like Lomagundi College, Prince Edward, Lundi Park and Midlands Christian College in Gweru and Tynwald schools.
We also supply jerseys to uniformed forces such as the Air Force of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Republic Police. We also supply banks and retail outlets.
EM: The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) 2015 manufacturing sector survey shows capacity utilisation has declined to 34,3 percent on liquidity constraints and outdated machinery, among other challenges. How are you managing to remain viable in such an environment?
MM: These problems are real, we have also been affected by old machinery and liquidity issues. But for smaller companies like ours, it is easy to pick problems and address them before they get out of hand.
With regards to liquidity challenges, this is a big problem. Most companies closed or are heavily downsized. Some of these were our clients.
For instance, the closure of Trust Bank and some supermarkets have affected our business. Some of the clients we have remaining are streamlining operations to cut costs and this affects us too. It is like a cycle.
EM: Imports have been identified as a major impediment to industry competitiveness, especially in the clothing sector. How is Navidale faring in the presence of imports where school uniforms, for instance, are sold on streets?
MM: Cheap imports are a big problem to our business. Like I said earlier, it is a cycle. Vendors sell school uniforms at retail shops’ door steps.
These are the same retail shops we supply and when their business drops, we are also badly affected.
There are a lot of short cuts being taken in this economy. We continue to call on Government to control this situation because it is affecting us.
However, we are grateful Government has come up with policies to assist us by recognising the potential in indigenous people. We would not be here today operating businesses or even getting loans if Government had not intervened to support us.
EM: What are your prospects going forward?
MM: Like I said, there is no looking back. All we can do is continue growing and by God’s grace, we believe we can do it. In the next two weeks, Navidale will commission new machinery coming from Germany worth 200 000 euros.
This should improve efficiency and quality of our products. We want to match international standards. When we started, we used to outsource some services but right now, we even have our in-house embroidery machinery to meet the needs of our market. All this we are doing so that our products can compete on the global market. Our goal is to export. As a Christian, I believe all things are possible.
EM: There are many women out there with business ideas but do not know how to execute them and empower themselves. What words of encouragement can you give to them?
MM: The most important thing is to believe in yourself, even if the people around you discourage you. In addition to that, do not try to do too much at once, you may lose control. Take a step at a time and learn from others. Above all, put God in all you do.