Ouma Tema decided that finding beautiful clothes would stop being a cause of frustration for her simply because she was plus-size. This tenacious mindset inspired her to start making her clothes and posting them on social media. Soon enough, friends who admired her style began asking where her clothes were from so Ouma started Plus Fab – a South African fashion brand that caters specifically to plus size women.
Although Ouma started her business from the boot of her car, today she produces her clothes in top-notch factories and they are distributed in the fastest growing retail chain in South Africa. This article is about Ouma Tema’s incredible journey and how she has been able to turn her frustration into a thriving business.
What was your life like before you started Plus Fab?
Before I started Plus Fab, I was working for the government. I had a good time there because I learnt a great deal of professionalism. That was the foundation that helped me grow as a professional. I loved my job when I was there but I got tired of it. Also, I knew that this was not where I was supposed to be so while I was there, I began working towards my exit.
Did you ever know you were ever going to start a brand like Plus Fab?
As I was struggling to get clothes for myself, I was like, I need to do something to solve the problem of there not being stylish clothes for plus size women. It wasn’t something like, “oh I really would like to have a fashion brand.” I was not inspired to start my business, I was propelled by the problem at hand. So Plus Fab is a product made out of frustration.
What do you think makes Plus Fab stand out as a brand?
I always say that anybody can make a dress, anybody can do a jumpsuit but not everyone can instil confidence in people. We want women to go out in the world and be badasses. No black queen should lose her energy because she has nothing nice to wear. We do not want people to miss their graduation ceremony. We do not want clothes to be a barrier to that amazing life that you want to have.
So we stay true to our promise. We do not sell something just because of the size. We also sell you the fashion, the fabulosity, the amazingness and the comfort. You can wear our dresses 10 years to come and you will still be popping.
How were you able to keep Plus Fab running during the lockdown?
What was nice about this whole thing is that people could buy online. At Plus Fab, we are proud of the fact that we produce all our clothes so as soon as facial masks could be worn in public, we were ready and pumped to produce scarf masks. It was challenging but making those scarf masks helped us push through.
How did you communicate with your customers during the lockdown?
We kept on communicating with our customers on social media letting them know that the frustration was mutual. Some customers lost their jobs but still came to buy their last dresses from us. They were like, “I do not know when I will get my next job but this is the last item I am buying from you guys for now.”
How important do you think local communities are for small businesses?
They are incredibly important. I always say buy local. It is the utmost act of patriotism because you are affirming that jobs must be created, sustained and there must be no poverty in your country and your community. In Africa, the biggest enemy is poverty so it is incredibly important for us to support our local communities.
You make prom dresses available for young plus-size girls. Can you speak about that?
I did not go to prom because I did not have a dress to wear. So I started this because I did not want young plus-sized girls to miss out to prom simply because they could not find the right dress to wear. I do not want dresses to be a haggle simply because of their size.
What is your big vision for Plus Fab?
Plus Fab is a fabulous movement. We cannot wait to start trading across Africa and then the world. I want Plus Fab to be a household name. I want it to be known from Cape Town to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar, New York, Ghana, Nigeria, Lesotho and all around the world. So global domination is the idea.
What advice would you give to people who want to start sustainable businesses?
- What problem are you solving and at what price are you solving it? I think the most important question you have to ask an entrepreneur is what problem are you solving? If you know, you will do the right business. Look at your community and see what they need and how you can provide value. Ultimately, entrepreneurs are problem solvers. If you are honest about that, the money will come.
- Know your customers: Some of our customers who love and support us got salary cuts and as much as they would love to buy from us, we understood that we were not a priority at the moment. We kept communicating with them and that’s why I can sit here and tell you today that we know where our customers are at. Some say, “I want to buy a dress but we are on lockdown. We can’t be seen in public, we can’t go to parties, We can’t go to weddings, so where am I going?”
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This spotlight feature on Ouma Tema is powered by Visa. Visa’s ‘Where you Shop Matters’ initiative aims to champion entrepreneurs across Africa while encouraging consumers to support small businesses by shopping local. Visa’s initiative is supporting small businesses through the Visa Small Business Hub, a merchant platform providing tools and information on how to start, run and grow small businesses.