Thato Kgatlhanye, 21 and Rea Ngwane 22, are South African childhood friends turned business partners. Rea and Thato grew up in the rural North West village of Mogwase, they now run their company Rethaka Trading from Rustenburg.
Rethaka trading’s main product is an environmentally friendly school bag made out of reinforced plastic shopping bags which are strong, durable and waterproof so learners won’t get their schoolbooks wet and the icing on its cake – the solar panel unit. This built in solar technology gets charged as the pupil walks to and fro from school and can serve as alternative light in the dark rural communities. This solar panel addition can be attached to what appears to be a Consol jar at home and used as a light, a sustainable and affordable alternative to an often hazardous, kerosene lamp.
The bags are aimed at the children who come from disadvantaged schools and who often have to walk far distances to get to school, the bags are then fitted with retro-reflective material which improves the bag’s visibility to help ensure child safety. They also help prevent traffic injuries when car drivers run over school children crossing poorly lit streets.
Ngwane is studying a bachelor of commerce degree in marketing management at the University of Johannesburg.
Thato studied Marketing at the Vega School of Brand Leadership. Her life changed when she was selected for an internship with American entrepreneur, marketer and author Seth Godin. Upon her return, she co-founded Rethaka Trading with her business partner Rea Ngwane. Together, they pursued an idea Thato had developed when she was working on for a class assignment at Vega: a multi-purpose schoolbags designed to be a response to concrete problems and challenges faced by South African students. Repurpose Schoolbags was born. It was Rethaka’s first initiative and it became an award-winning project. In November 2013, Repurpose Schoolbags came third at the SAB Foundation Innovation Awards and received a R300,000 seed grant.
The production of Repurpose Schoolbags involves the collection and recycling of plastic bags that typically litter the South African landscape, another environmentally friendly act. .
As social entrepreneurs, one of the ways the initiative gets its schoolbags to these children is through targeting corporate social investment budgets where companies can sponsor the production of bags. Each bag costs R250 (US$20), and covers the cost of employee wages and production, so the initiative can remain sustainable and continue to grow.
Another model is to produce bags for delegate packs at corporate events where delegates can then choose to give the bag to underprivileged children after events. The company has already gained some major clients, including the likes of Standard Bank and PwC and they seek more giving partners in their quest to dignify a child. According to them “a child is afforded dignity when they carry a Repurpose Schoolbag instead of a plastic bag”.