Italian ‘gem’ empowers unemployed city residents

Pictured, from left, are Geneva Frans, Thabisa Mdlankomo, Nicolo Fordera, Maria Luisa Grimaudo, Francesco Tesse, Jimmy van Ster and Nonceba Luludi.

Although Maria Luisa Grimaudo, a business woman who recently moved from Sicily, does not speak English very well, she did not need to learn to say “empowerment” to open up her business to women in South Africa who struggle to find work.

Ms Grimaudo, who owns 3Nakia-Art, a jewellery-making workshop in the city centre with her partners Francesco Tesse and Nicolò Foderà, aims to build her creative team by recruiting mainly women with the lowest qualifications, teaching them the art of jewellery-making, then permanently employing them as a production team.

With her team of four designers, three of whom are women, 3NakiaArt produces artisan jewellery from sterling silver to copper, using semi-precious stones.

Ms Luisa Grimaudo started her business in Sicily in 2009, but moved to Cape Town last year because the economy in Italy “wasn’t doing well”.

“I came here for a holiday in 2014 and thought ‘wow, Cape Town is beautiful and I love the people’. I decided to come back to Cape Town and start my business in this country.”

She said starting a business in a foreign country was difficult. “My first problem was my language. I don’t speak English well, and we still need time to market, but the people love our product. And we give lots of praise to the employees we have here.”

When she opened the business in February, she realised she needed a team to assist her to make the jewellery which is now sold at Desperate Mama in Woodstock and Langaro Spa in Tygervalley.

“I prefer women because I can relate to them, and I know the difficulties women face in the work environment. Women encounter many challenges when starting a business, or getting promoted into managerial positions. I have experienced this myself. Women are sometimes not recognised in the business world. It is also very male dominated.”

She and her colleagues then put out an advertisement and called in people for interviews. However, people were hired just on their willingness to learn.

“We looked at people with the lowest qualification and judged them based on how much they wanted this opportunity.”

The women who were chosen were put on a six-month paid learnership, where they were taught, by Ms Luisa Grimaudo, Mr Foderà and Mr Tesse, the craft of jewellery-making. Ms Luisa Grimaudo said they are showing promise.

“We take people with no qualification and no job and we try to equip them with skills and teach them the art of jewellery-making.”

She said the idea is to employ them permanently and, when the company expands, the team will become teachers for other employees who will be brought on board and put through the learnership.

After the learnership, the employees who are willing to work for the company are given a three-month temporary contract, which serves as a probation period.

But so far, all the employees who were interviewed have stayed with the company, and are doing well, said Ms Luisa Grimaudo.

Nonceba Luludi, who started at the company seven months ago, is one of the first employees at 3Nakia-Art. “It’s is fun. I’m learning a lot. I have a graphic design background, and Maria taught me all I know about jewellery-making.

“I create designs while drawing from my graphic design background. It’s a free creative environment.”

Jimmy van Ster is the only man on the team. He said the experience has been good so far. I never made jewellery before, I am more into clothing, but I am enjoying it.

“I create my work based on my emotions, so it changes daily.”

Geneva Frans, who studied jewelley, had to drop out of college, so she was happy to get back into craftsmanship at 3NakiaArt. “It’s going well. My style is very gothic. I like to make bold things and chokers.

Thabisa Mdlankomo started with no experience, and was impressed to discover new techniques and how to use the tools.

“When making my jewellery, I am inspired by nature most of the time,” she said.