Nanini Mgandela started designing handbags to make the money she needed to get her music career off the ground. While her music dreams have taken a back seat, launching Dela Nan Fashion made another dream come true — she is living her passion of working with differently abled people.

Unlikely inspiration

Back in 2009, Nanini saw a friend with a beautiful handbag made with polypropylene fabric, which is normally used to create huge carrier bags and never considered fashionable. Inspired by the bag’s beauty, she decided to try her hand at making her own by recycling an old set of pyjamas into a bag that her family and friends loved. When strangers started asking her where she bought it and how they could get their hands on it, she decided to get into the business of designing handbags.

She worked alone until 2010, when a group of tourists ordered 20 bags. She looked for an assistant to help her produce the bags until she finally met Jabulile Mnguni, a differently abled seamstress. “I only noticed that she was differently abled after a few weeks when I realised that she only used her right hand to cut patterns,” says Nanini.

Jabulile, who dreamt of being a seamstress but could not do so because of her disability, inspired Nanini to start the Dela Nan Internship Programme. The internship focuses on teaching employees with special needs how to design, cut patterns, sew and work with the equipment. Nanini created the programme after observing her employees’ day-to-day work activities and wanting to improve their rate of producing bags. “I only work with one person a year because the process takes time. It was easy to teach Jabulile how to design bags, but she lacked social skills, which also had to be addressed.”

Taking the programme further

Between 2011 and 2017, the internship programme has elevated the interests of differently abled people to design and create bags. “I am a self-taught bag designer, therefore I am continually trying to improve my work and the work of my staff,” says Nanini.

Her burning passion to work with people with special needs grew as her business grew. So when she needed more staff for packing boxes and odd admin work, she hired two more differently abled people on a part-time basis.

Nanini continues to do research on improving the programme, and will be including self-esteem and confidence upliftment as part of the internship. “I want to inspire differently abled people, especially those from the Eastern Cape who don’t have the same opportunities as those in the big cities. I want to change the perception that society has of differently abled people,” she says.


This story was first published by Live SA. You can read the original here.

This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.