Turning passion into profit: An interview with Thato and Lerato Ts’oeute

Thato and Lerato

Meet Thato and Lerato, the dynamic, talented duo behind Gifted Hands. Growing up, the twin sisters were adept at handicraft and took it on as a hobby; little did they know it would one day turn into a full time business.

Now at 30 years of age, the self-taught crafters work from their home-based craft workshop, where they make and sell a vast array of furniture and décor items.

Two years on, they have lived through the ebb and flow of running a business and attribute their success to passion and hard work, God’s grace and their ever-supportive husbands.

They share their experience turning a hobby into a business and juggling being wives and full-time entrepreneurs.

Tell us about your business and the products you provide.

Gifted Hands is a craft shop producing customized furniture, crafts and décor items. We cater for homeowners, renters and businesses like restaurants and boutique shops looking for a wide range of furniture items including beds, coffee tables, TV stands, books shelves, reading tables and many more. We design and craft creative and artistic pieces that are affordable yet luxurious and suited to the client’s personal style.

How did your business start and how long has it been in operation?

We have always been artistic from a young age, we were very good at drawing and would make ornaments from stones and shells we would find in the streets. After finishing our tertiary schooling, we started making string art and small furniture and décor pieces which we would showcase and sell at markets and expos in between working in our full time jobs at the time. The response and demand was so overwhelming that we decided to go into it full time using profits from expo sales to purchase machinery and tools to start. Now 2 years later, we are still at it.

Describe a typical day in your job.

The work day usually starts at 8.30 AM, we get to the workshop and go over order schedules, sorting out what is on the production line and what is due for collection. We then get to work cutting and sanding wood, preparing it for use, this is the most laborious part of the job. Once that is done, we put together the furniture pieces, refine them and prepare them for collection. We are in the workshop until around 6PM daily with lunch breaks in between.

What drives you and inspires you to wake up every day and go to work?

Thato: My work fulfils me; it is more than a job to me. I look forward to creating something new and learning because there is always lots to learn every day in this job. I feel I am where I need to be, it is a both a career and a passion, it is something I would do even if I wasn’t making any money out of it.

Lerato: This job excites me and gives me a chance to display my God-given talent, especially without any formal training. I look forward to working on the crafts we make and marvelling at the finished product.

What are some of the highlights so far in your business journey?

Our biggest highlight is always seeing our customers’ delight and satisfaction with our products.

The growth and transition in our craft.  Overtime we have invested in our development and refined our skills through video tutorials on YouTube and learning on the job and have expanded our product offering.

We have also gained a lot of following on our Facebook and Instagram social media platforms which have served as very effective advertising and promotion channels where most of our new clients find us.

What challenges and pitfalls have you encountered running this business?

Our business model operates on orders so we experience dry periods where we have gone for about 3 months or so without any orders. Demand for our products tends to be seasonal with customers buying our products at certain times more than others and that affects business cash flow.

We often face a resources shortage and unavailability of the machinery and tools we require in the country which delays our turnaround times and sometimes limits the type of designs we can offer.

In earlier days, the lack of formal training in carpentry and design would impact on output timelines causing production delays and sometimes we would need to start over to rectify poor workmanship but, overtime we have improved our craft and skills.

How do you balance being wives and full time entrepreneurs?

Finding a balance between being full time entrepreneurs and also being wives and a mother in Lerato’s case is a constant challenge for us. We don’t always get it right, some days are hectic and we find ourselves in the workshop all day, leaving very little time for our families. As much as possible, we strive to invest time and effort in the business while also allowing time to be with our families and compensate for time lost. It also helps that out husbands are very supportive of our business and they help out from time to time with deliveries and other errands.

How has your business been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown?

The first few weeks were hard with virtually no business. We could still produce but had no access to the market or the materials and tools required. Our business saw a 180 degree turn when hardware stores were allowed to open again, we went full force on social media marketing and demand for our products soared.  Our bestselling product has been study desks, we got a lot of orders from people who had to work or study from home.

What are your plans for Gifted Hands over the next few years?

The vision is to see Gifted Hands products in every household, restaurant or business in Lesotho. We want to be the go-to place for all furniture and décor needs.

In the short term, we plan to produce a few stock items and set up a showroom where customers can walk in, view the items and shop on demand. This will be in addition to the current order system we currently operate under.

We also want to venture into interior design and eventually set up a mega furniture factory employing Basotho creatives to showcase their skills and talents.

What are your top business tips and advice for new and existing entrepreneurs?

  1. Don’t wait for a perfect time to start, there will be never be a perfect time and delaying will not serve you.
  2. Being an entrepreneur is not easy and not for the faint hearted so start a business in an area you enjoy and are passionate about, that excites you and you are happy to wake up to every day.
  3. Owning and running a business is an assignment of faith – you go into it without any guarantee of winning, so be teachable and open to learning and evolving in line with market trends and demand.

 Words to live by:   

Lerato:  “Do what you are passionate about. The body and mind may get worn out but passion never tires.”

Thato: “You are adequate beyond measure and you can only discover just how far you can go by tapping into your potential.”

 Connect with Gifted Hands on:

  Facebook:  Gifted Hands Craft       Instagram: Gifted Hands Craft