Beauty with Brains
Shenai Bridglall, a small town girl with big city dreams, a former model and a Miss South Africa semi-finalist who starts her own luxury business and a non-profit organization. The girl with beauty and brains grew up and schooled in Port Shepstone. Upon matriculation Shenai relocated to Cape Town to complete a Bachelor of Business Science in marketing, statistics and economics from the University of Cape Town. Shenai worked at Google in South Africa and Singapore before pursuing the fashion industry and working at TFG. Bridglall moved to Italy, where she completed a course in Footwear and Bag Technology at Polimoda. Not long after she returned to South Africa last year to complete her Master of Business Science and start SB Holdings Ltd., a global luxury goods conglomerate.
While being in the midst of her busy life of education, work experiences and running Shenai founded The EssBee Foundation, a non-profit organisation in 2016.
SB Holdings Ltd is a multinational luxury goods conglomerate headquartered in South Africa. Subsidiaries include Shenai Bridglall and Bridgeur. Shenai Bridglall is a South African founded luxury women’s footwear company that designs, handcrafts and markets quality Italian footwear products with a signature SB heel to independent and empowered consumers. It took Shenai two years of research, development and prototyping, five footwear factories and many failed attempts before finally making a sample that she was 100% happy with. Bridgeur, pronounced [breed-jair], a luxury apparel company is the newest addition to SB Holdings Ltd. Shenai can’t give away much about our newest addition, so you’ll have to wait until the launch in October.
The EssBee Foundation is a non-profit organisation that aims to reduce the gender inequality gap of women in South Africa. In May 2017, the foundation organized the #StopAbuse march, to raise awareness around violence against women and children and to raise funds for an abuse seminar, trauma counseling and an educational boot camp for boys. Aside from women empowerment, The EssBee Foundation promotes education, nutrition, and personal hygiene, through activities such as stationery drives for schoolchildren. The organisation has grown incredibly since inception in 2016; currently operating in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg with approximately 30 dedicated volunteers around the country. Shenai was told a few months ago that they are the only registered South African non-profit organisation that has a 100% South African volunteer complement.
"if this is true, it’s rather surprising because in my opinion, charity should start at home and come from the heart "
We noticed that you started your non-profit organization before your for-profit companies. This is a strange order and rather unusual, how come?
I didn’t always know what I wanted to do in life but I knew the type of women that I wanted to become and the impact that I wanted to have on the world from the very start. Yes, fashion only came later once I figured this out but charity has always been incredibly important to me; I have pledged to incorporate The EssBee Foundation into every for-profit venture I start. When you find value in your service to other people, this inspires you to become a better person.
While at university, it concerned me that most students were male. After questioning and much research, I realized that girls in South Africa drop out of school because of having insufficient resources (sanitary wear) and mentorship (career guidance and sexual education); this drove me to start The EssBee Foundation. I want to provide girls with the resources to become somebodies instead of somebody’s.
How have your entrepreneurial motivations changed since you first started?
Social media makes entrepreneurship look so glamorous! It fooled me… don’t let it fool you. I’m a strong minded planner, this, coupled with a business degree led me to start the subsidiaries of SB Holdings Ltd with solid business plans, competitor analyses, market entry strategies and strict timelines. My entrepreneurial motivations and general outlook changed when I realised that the entrepreneurial world is very different from what you put down on paper and what you learn while working for someone else; no amount of corporate experience or education can sufficiently prepare you for the journey and problems you will encounter.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned, and would pass along to other women leaving a job and start for themselves?
The journey is incredibly difficult…If you are ‘lucky’, it will take you more than double the amount of time, money and work than you anticipated but the self-fullfillment will be more than worth it.
What are your hobbies or non-work-related activities?
I love to travel and am fortunate to have visited 43 countries in the world. In my opinion, traveling opens up your mind and helps you to grow as an individual by learning about different cultures and traditions; this in turn helps with conducting international business successfully.
I am also a huge car fanatic and enjoy going on supercar runs!
As an entrepreneur do you have innate qualities, or is it something that you learned?
My grandmother was a seamstress and my grandfather worked at a footwear factory before starting his FMCG business; my parents are entrepreneurs too, so you could argue that I was ‘born an entrepreneur.’
In my opinion though, entrepreneurs can be born but they are not born great; they grow great from their experiences and lessons that they learn on their journey to building their empire.
Discipline and creativity: are they two forces in opposition, or are they complementary?
Discipline and creativity are complementary; I think they balance each other out. Specifically with fashion, I tend to get these crazy creative ideas that are not always realistic so being somewhat disciplined helps me to draw the line and figure out what can and cannot be cost-effective and practical for production.
What sacrifices have you had to make during life as an entrepreneur and a leader?
I’ve had to cut out many people and adjust my priorities; as you progress you realize that you cannot please everyone and unfortunately not everyone will be sincerely happy for you so you have to be picky.
What is your life motto?
There is no dream that is too big to achieve if you work hard, believe in yourself and never give up… The keyword here is NEVER GIVE UP!
You have a team working for you, what would you advice for someone who is looking for a team? What do you recommend for them to look for?
I would always suggest that you hire for organisational fit and personal attitude, then teach and train for skill. Most of your life is spent at work so you need to surround yourself with people who understand the core purpose of your business and your vision for the future. I’ve found it simpler and more rewarding to teach new employees who are enthusiastic to learn and grow, than to teach a ‘know-it-all.’
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you agree/ disagree with? Why?
I am in total agreement with Warren Buffet and Sheryl Sandberg’s advice that the most important career decision you will ever make is who you choose to marry as I feel that this decision can either make or break your career.
If you had one piece of advice to our readers and to those just starting out as a business owner, what would it be?
As a woman, you should never be delimited from pursuing your dream based on the ground that ‘a girl can’t do that.’