It’s said that the head is the seat of life and the top-most, centre of communication. It symbolises power and authority. Kings and priests were anointed on their heads upon which jewelled crowns were perched. The modern-day selfie too, generally focuses on our heads, being manoeuvred to catch the perfect pout in a display of beauty!
However, the traditional head-wrap is steeped in history and symbolism, most often with negative connotations, so when I met Tebogo Petlele (34), a social entrepreneur and the founder of Seponono Africa, I was fascinated by her mission to change the negative narrative. She aims to take the head-wrap, beyond being a mere cloth (or “doek”) to being a meaningful conversation starter. Significantly, she wants to involve men and encourage them to wear the head-wraps as advocates in the stand against gender-based violence, inequality and other social ills facing women.
I had the privilege to chat with Tebogo, and this is her story.
Why Seponono and why head-wraps?
“I took a leap of faith and resigned from my full-time employment to embark on a self-discovery journey searching for my purpose. I voluntarily wore a head-wrap daily for a year and later “birthed” the brand Seponono Africa in August 2016. The word Seponono is a Tswana word that refers to a beautiful woman that exudes and radiates confidence. The connotation to Seponono Africa also refers to the Beauty of Africa”.
a head-wrap is an African Crown that represents a bold, non-verbal statement of strength, honour, and identity, it also symbolises peace, kindness, humility, and empowerment. A head-wrap can be worn by both young and older generations to express themselves whether they are happy or sad and it does not discriminate whether you are a general worker or a CEO.”
What are your business challenges as a social entrepreneur?
“For the longest time, I struggled to define or separate my work from charity work. I was self-employed by name and NPO by work, until I realised that I was a Social Entrepreneur.”
A social entrepreneur is someone that seeks to make a profit as an entrepreneur, whilst equally and positively impacting society. The Seponono business model has included learners from a special needs school to assist with creating their head-wraps and they have also established an NPO called PEO Foundation -peo means seed. The PEO foundations first youth development programme is called Dear Seponono, which distributes inspiring and motivational letters from women across the continent, to young women in high school along with dignity packs that include sanitary towels and a head-wrap. The intent is to encourage young women to prioritise their education and to remind them that they are always worthy despite their circumstances.
We need business assistance to spread the word to other women who might be interested in writing the letters, donating - sanitary towels and assistance with translations into braille as the project is inclusive of learners with special needs.
Additionally, the business faces challenges in fabric sourcing and head-wrap branding. Fabric is sourced from informal traders, where the prices and quality often vary and branding is outsourced, making the unit cost of head-wraps varied and expensive.
We need help in increasing awareness of the business so that they can increase their sales to purchase their own fabric printing and branding machinery.
“My approach is never to ask for funding, but rather to increase business awareness, network, and be open to advice on how to improve and position the business… these three things will get you more than what you are looking for, trust me!”
This approach has proven to be true, as Head-wrap accolades include a masterclass with Gogo Esther Mahlangu, Marjorie Harvey has worn the Seponono head-wrap and they’ve been featured at the Essence Festival in Durban and the World Economic Forum – Africa.
In wrapping up another Women’s month and edging toward another 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, it is no secret that women in the different roles they live and lead, have and continue, to take strain to stand out and rise above the crowd. The statistics of GBV and the underrepresentation of women in business tell the story that there is a long way to go for women to achieve equality in their business and home lives. We should all do things differently. The 20 000+ resilient women of 1956, certainly did not sit passively accepting the cards that they were dealt. They acted to empower you and me today.
As women and men, how can we raise our own heads, and challenge ourselves to act to empower women entrepreneurs that will come after us, women business owners that are rising, the women within our circle of influence and the younger generation that is watching what we are doing with the world that they will inherit.
Tebogo’s challenge for action is “we challenge men to wear head-wraps, as a symbol of support to women and to activate deep, meaningful conversation amongst themselves. Wearing a head-wrap for a day or a month might be uncomfortable, and it may even be daunting, but imagine how we as women feel every day walking down the street, in a boardroom full of men that think you are inadequate and having to prove yourself repeatedly…”.
As an entrepreneur, you know that when we lift our heads, you are defying defeat.
Author: Monique Chinnah
It is a wrap for Women’s month, but how will you lift your head, beyond commemorative days, months, and moments to support women entrepreneurs?
Take the pledge and tell us below👇, to stand the chance to win one of 20, beautifully packaged and significant Seponono head-wraps.*