Nqobile Nkosi has the entrepreneur’s knack for making a plan. As an unemployed and unskilled Soweto youth, he applied to and was selected to attend a two-year jewellery manufacturing course at the Soweto Jewellery School, an initiative of Imfundiso Skills Development. Determined to make something of his life, it’s an opportunity he grasped with both hands, graduating in 2007 with a National Certificate in Jewellery Manufacturing.
With dreams of starting his own business, he tried unsuccessfully to source government funding. “It was disheartening but I refused to give up. I knew that I’d simply have to come up with the money another way,” he says, explaining how he sold cakes and biscuits until he’d raised the R20 000 needed to purchase his first piece of equipment. NQ Jewellery was registered that same year, and exhibited its first designs at the Soweto Festival and Jewellex International, where it received rave reviews.
Persistence and self-sufficiency of the kind exhibited by Nkosi makes other people sit up and take notice. While attending a training programme on jewellery manufacturing, he sat next to and struck up a conversation with award-wining UK jewellery designer, Paul Spurgeon. “I was so impressed with Nqobile’s drive and his desire to go out there and get it for himself, instead of waiting for it to come to him, that I made a decision there and then to offer him any support I could,” says Spurgeon, who has mentored Nkosi and provided him with training and ongoing support, while some of his UK contacts have donated cash and equipment.
Others have also recognised Nkosi’s success. He was a 2008 finalist in the Gauteng Business Leader Awards, where he received a Standard Bank business advisor and free training from The Business Place for a year, while in 2009 he won the Jet Community Awards Vuka Uzenzele. He recently realised his long-term goal of opening Soweto’s first jewellery manufacturing and retail shop in the famous Vilikazi Street near Nelson Mandela’s former home, adding locals and tourists to his existing market of jewellery retailers.
The business currently employs four full-time staff members but Nkosi is passioante about job creation and wants to see that number grow significantly. To this end, he’s working closely with Spurgeon to establish a training centre near Pretoria for aspirant young jewellery manufacturers who will receive on-the-job training. The project involves the launch of a collection targeting the European market.
As South African mining houses focus increasingly on the issue of beneficiation, it’s a promising time to be in jewellery manufacturing and Nkosi plans to capitalise on every opportunity that comes his way. In February 2012, he will showcase his collection at Spring Fair International in Birmingham, the UK’s biggest retail trade show. Exciting things lie ahead.