Johannesburg – Sanele Simmons is the founder and CEO of Mall For Women, a global e-commerce marketplace that offers high-quality lifestyle products for women at affordable prices.
Using the platform, women entrepreneurs can sell their products and services, get business support, access funding and connect with other like-minded women.
The 36-year-old Simmons described her virtual mall (mallforwomen.com) as “building a community of women to support each other while keeping them looking and feeling their best”.
Why did you decide to venture into this space?
My entrepreneurial journey began after becoming a semifinalist in Mrs South Africa 2017. Afterwards, I realised that most of the women who went on to the finals were business owners.
Though I had been in the beauty industry for 13 years at that time, I did not have a business of my own.
I was motivated to change that.
The following year, I launched Sanele Simmons Shine Academy, a finishing and modelling school for teens and young adults, and in 2019 I started Beauty with Intention, which focuses on both inner and outer beauty, educating and demonstrating that true beauty comes from within.
We hosted several events, produced a radio show, started shooting a pilot for a TV show, and then Covid-19 hit.
When the world went into lockdown, I was invited to attend an online training in e-commerce hosted by the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mall For Women was an idea I had in 2013.
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When I thought of it, I wanted to build an ecosystem, but I did not know it was an ecosystem back then. I imagined it as a community of women all supporting each other as part of their lifestyle.
In my vision I had healthcare, retail, offices, daycare, fitness, legal services and any services women needed for a better society.
We would trade with each other and support each other’s businesses.
This would be a big project and huge capital would be needed, which I did not have.
So, I put the idea on the back burner until I had the e-commerce training.
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Is it a male-dominated space?
Yes, both the tech and the retail industries are mostly male-dominated. However, black women in tech have been at the forefront of coming up with solutions despite the many challenges we face.
What would you like to say to the unemployed woman with skills?
It’s never too late and never give up on your dreams. Mall For Women was launched on Women’s Day last year.
The next phase of the business is to assist women with skills and for women entrepreneurs to reach their full potential.
How does one get into your line of work?
First, you need uncapped Wi-Fi and a strong internet connection. The way I started in e-commerce is by taking an online course. There are plenty of free resources and tools available online. I was also fortunate to attend a business school programme.
You need determination, perseverance and patience.
Success in business or in your personal life begins with a dream or a vision.
The road between a dream and reality is full of obstacles, and when things go wrong, you will have to choose between giving up and persevering. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “anything you can imagine, you can create”.
What are the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges with starting an online business is building trust with your customers.
Some people have had bad experiences shopping online, and changing that perception is key for any online business to succeed.
What’s a typical day like?
I begin my day with prayer, a hot cup of coffee, and I listen to praise and worship. The nice thing about working online is that your phone and laptop are your office, and you can work anywhere.
Seeking investors, partners and tenants is key to making the business a success.
I also attend seminars, workshops and networking events to strengthen my knowledge and business relationships.
What advice do you have for South Africa?
SA is experiencing very high levels of unemployment and it is forecast to get worse. Entrepreneurship and business collaborations are viable ways we can use to create jobs and boost the economy.
Who are your customers?
We have two types of customers; business-to-business (B2B) and business- to-consumer (B2C) customers.
Our B2B customers are women entrepreneurs who want to sell their products and services online.
We have plans for any stage of business, from start-ups to established and expanding.
Our B2B customers are modern women from all walks of life who support women empowerment.
What kind of merchandise do you sell?
We sell whatever a woman needs to make their lives a little better from the comfort of their device anytime, anywhere.
Why should women always be in control of their destiny?
Investing in women has a multiplier effect: Women are an investment vehicle for their families and communities. Women are still in the minority when it comes to South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. In today’s economy, we must create opportunities and support each other to rise together.
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