Entrepreneur empowers herself

Aretha Doyle.

Entrepreneur Aretha Doyle is grateful that she has the opportunity to sell her products at the Watershed in the V&A Waterfront.

The CBD resident, who owns Cool Tabs, makes handbags, belts, jewellery, lamps and decor from tabs found on soft drink cans.

“At the Waterfront, I reach my target audience. People come from abroad every season to buy my products, and I have clients in Switzerland and France that I supply to. I wouldn’t have had this if I wasn’t located in the Watershed.”

However, Ms Doyle’s journey has not been easy and one of her challenges is that people are still not open to the idea of using products made from recycled materials.

Ms Doyle grew up in East London, but moved to Cape Town to study human resources.

Soon after, she started working at the Department of Home Affairs, but didn’t enjoy it.

“The service given to people was not too good, and I think some people were intimidated because I was such a hard worker. I left and went back home to East London.”

The struggle to find work in her hometown forced Ms Doyle move back to Cape Town, where she started working in retail.

She later had a baby, and could not work the hours that her job required, so she quit, but was approached by another retail outlet.

Her break came when she found work in the city, where she learnt how to make and repair jewellery.

Meanwhile, someone had seen her potential. “A woman from Hout Bay asked me to come work for her, and she taught me to make jewellery using metal and leather. I told her I eventually wanted to start my own business, and she supported me and taught me all the skills I needed to go on my own.”

The inspiration for her business came some years later, when she had collected the tabs from tins for charity.

“We had collected hundreds of tabs, but when we wanted to give them to the organisation, we couldn’t find a listing.”

She did, however, find a Brazilian company which made bags out of tabs.

“I then decided to keep the tabs and made myself a bag. It was my bag, and the idea to make products out of tabs did not hit me yet.”

She continued to make jewellery until she had enough stock, and one day, while walking through the Watershed, she saw an open cubicle at the market.

“I decided to take the chance and apply for it. The management where I had applied for the lease told me that there were many people making leather jewellery, so my chances of getting the space was slim.

“But when they saw my tab bag, which I was wearing on the day, they were very impressed and said it would work well at the market.

“My application was declined, but the management said I shouldn’t give up because they were extending the market.”

Ms Doyle then went back home, where she researched tab products, and tried to figure out a way to collect the tabs, or cans, so that she could start making more bags.

“I found that there was no one making these products in Cape Town, so I knew there was a market for my bags. I went to recycling centres and even to Coca Cola, but I couldn’t find a constructive way to collect tabs without spending too much money.”

She eventually found some men who sold things at a robot who helped her collect cans, remove the tabs, clean them and prepare them for her products.

When she had enough stock, she decided to go around to markets to see how they would be received.

“I eventually settled at the Church Street market in the CBD, and I saw that people actually loved them. At this point I was done making jewellery, and I focused on my tab products. I eventually reapplied for the space at the Watershed, and my application was approved.”

She said even though she opened her business at the Watershed three years ago, she thinks that people still need to get used to the idea that you can recycle products and actually wear them, especially locals.

“I get more compliments than sales. Most of my customers are tourists and foreigners – we all know most locals are fond of brands.”

She said another challenge is teaching someone else to make the products.

“It takes about three days to make one bag. I have three women who work with me now, including my sister, but she is leaving.

“They make bags in their own time and get paid according to what they produce. My dream is to have a warehouse and a stable job for my staff.”

Aretha said she loves living in the CBD because it is convenient.

“If you want to go out to eat or out on the town, everything is in walking distance. I take a MyCiTi bus to work, and I don’t have to worry about traffic.”