Bloom Conference: women in creative entrepreneurship

19th October 2021

Daring to bloom amongst the turbulence is the theme that inspired this year’s Bloom Conference and Retreat, in partnership with M&C Saatchi Group South Africa.

In a world that has been redefined by the pandemic, the idea of courage has taken on different contours as we adapt, grow, and define ourselves anew. Held during a season associated with new growth, the Bloom Conference and Retreat saw a community of creative women come together to learn, reflect, and grow. Against the backdrop of the lush and minimalist Farmhouse 58 – a space grounded in a return to the earth and to ourselves – we spent time in conversation, learning from women walking the journey of creative entrepreneurship across different sectors. 

The pandemic has forced us to critically rethink creative entrepreneurship and find a balance between a considered approach and a leap into the unknown. It’s fitting then, that the poem “Risk” by Anaïs Nin, served as inspiration: 

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

This is something that the three women on our founders’ panel know intimately. Each of their stories exemplifies what it means to have the courage to take on creative entrepreneurship, in their distinct and yet connected paths.

Sinenhlanhla Ndlela of Yococo, Mpho Phalane from Food I Love You, and Marea Lewis of Toasted are three women connected by their culinary pursuits, who have unique and inspiring stories to tell about what it means to dedicate yourself to a journey of creative entrepreneurship. They shared these at the Bloom conference, as lessons in financial decision-making existed side-by-side with their articulations of what motivates and inspires their business and its practices.

Sinenhlanhla shares the story of Yococo

With names like “Creativity”, “Wisdom” and “Freedom”, there is heart, aspiration, and intention in every scoop of the coconut-fueled vegan ice cream that Sinenhlanhla Ndlela creates. The dairy-free brand has love at its core, and the brand’s journey started in her apartment in 2016, the result of a courageous commitment to an idea. From the manifesto that inspires her ingredients to the thoughtful environmentally-friendly packaging, her brand is firmly rooted in making something meaningful. 

At the conference, she shared her commitment to joy and bliss, while offering frank advice on investment and the difficult lessons that she’s learned along the way. These included being attentive to the fact that investors will always have their own ideas about your business, and she advised attendees to be mindful of this when seeking to grow and expand their offerings. She also explained how she often turned to good financial practices when going through a difficult financial time, rather than sustaining these throughout – a practice she has shifted as she aims to grow her business. 

Throughout, her deep connection to why she started Yococo was palpable, telling attendees to not rely on old models, and instead:

Create a model that makes sense for you...and it might make sense for somebody else in the future.

Mpho talks pivots with Food I Love You

At the conference, the women on our founder’s panel shared the many pivots they have consistently made throughout their careers. Mpho Phalane’s story is like many of the women who make up the ever-expanding Bloom community – a narrative of pivoting towards passion. With a media diploma and extensive experience in advertising, Mpho moved towards the culinary industry driven by the idea of connection in food. 

Food I Love You offers catering that is about more than food on a plate. It is built on creativity, experimentation, and an innovative approach, building unique experiences for clients. Each offering is driven by an unpretentious, immersive approach and served in abundance. As she says on her site:  “Food can be the metaphor to create change and create the society we want, where we are empathetic to one another but it starts with how we curate our dinner table experiences with others”. 

At the conference, Mpho shared that she is currently preparing to open her restaurant in Constitution Hill, slowly building intention into every aspect of the new venture. “Intentionality is important and it’s something that we tend to forget in the food industry because there’s very little room for error”, she said. On our panel, she also explained the importance of grappling with ideas, thoughts, and decisions. Mpho is constantly thinking about what kind of business she is trying to create and told our audience that,

There is no one-size-fits-all, but you know what you want to embody in your business and I think leading with that is important.

Marea leads a community of women at Toasted

Tucked away in a hidden wonderland off Jan Smuts in Parkview, Marea Lewis’s eatery serves artisanal toasted sandwiches that often make their way onto Instagram pages. But, like Mpho, her work is about more than sandwiches. Both simple and decadent, Toasted is a creative business that prides itself on being a “women-led community and collaboration space” – everything in their space and on their menu is developed with women at the helm. 

Diving deeply into the spirit of risk, Lewis opened the eatery during the pandemic. She told Sunday Times: “Taking this on meant leaving my job, moving back in with my mom to start a business. I took out two personal loans”. At our conference, she gave us insight into what these decisions meant, sharing what motivates her day-to-day, and how to get started with an idea clearly in mind, rather than expensively finding your way to market. 

“Skills are totally transferable,” she said. “Just because you start off in one place doesn’t mean you have to follow this path for the rest of your life. Also, you need to know yourself quite well, one thing I try to lead with is that I play to my strengths, and then you find people to uplift you where you are not strong.” 

Deeply inspiring the women in the audience, Marea finished off with the kind of honesty that defined the panel:

You don’t need a business degree to be an entrepreneur, you have to lead with your heart: have your idea and carry it through. I love food and I enjoy food, but I also saw it as a strategic thing.

The women on the founders’ panel were joined by multiple creative entrepreneurs, for a day of inspiration and meaningful connection – as they each shared their stories and lessons amidst much laughter, murmurs of recognition, and affirmation. The day-long event featured a keynote by Partner/Head of Strategy Makosha Maja-Rasethaba, who gave powerful reflections on what it means to invest in diversity and spearhead change. With panels from a cross-section of creative industries (including our founders’ panel), the day concluded with a picnic lunch and music from Scott the Girl, and a surprise performance by Msaki.

It was a day of connection, sharing, practical advice and inspiration – key tenets of the Bloom community, as we bloom, together.