A proudly South African, proudly female entrepreneur: The story of Mia Mélange

Jared Kruger

09 Dec 2019

Reading time: 9 min Startup stories

Jeanneke Malan, owner of creative startup Mia Mélange, is harnessing local talent to produce beautiful homeware and lifestyle products. In a recent interview, she tells us what inspires her as an entrepreneur, and what it takes to be a small business owner in South Africa. 

Mia Mélange harnesses local talent to make products that other countries can’t get enough of

We’ve met many entrepreneurs with impressive degrees and promising careers in corporate who threw it all away to follow their dreams. One of these is Jeanneke Malan, owner of Mia Mélange. Armed with masters degrees in architecture and urban design, she made the bold choice to not to fill an existing job in our economy, and instead create new ones. 

This is her story:

1. Mia Me-who?

2. The master behind Mia Melanage

3. Many mountains to climb, and milestones to celebrate

4. Why entrepreneurship matters to Jeanneke, and South Africa 

Mia Me-who?

Mia Mélange designs and creates handcrafted interior décor and lifestyle products, such as

baskets, planters, bowls, placemats, bags and more. But there’s something special about these products – they’re all handcrafted by local artisans in a studio in Stellenbosch. 

“Our designs are inspired by a love for nature, texture, natural materials and ancient crafting techniques. We combine all of these to create modern, functional designs. Our products are made from 100% cotton rope, which is grown locally in South Africa by farmers who are members of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). The yarns are spun in South African mills, and the rope is braided locally in Cape Town.”

So then, who is Mia Mélange? A socially-responsible startup that designs and sells unique, functional, locally-crafted products, and in so doing, creates employment opportunities for people in our community. Intrigued? Us too!

The masters behind Mia Melanage

Mia Mélange was originally founded in 2014 by Mia Danieli, who has a background in textile design.

“Mia believes in empowering women and creating opportunities. She upskilled and created jobs for previously unemployed women in our area.”

In November 2017, Mia sold the business to its current owner, Jeanneke Malan. Jeanneke not only shares Mia’s values, she also holds masters degrees in architecture and urban design. 

“I am a proud South African whose dream it is to grow businesses and train and employ more women from the community. Because of the increasing interest in the products and the growth of the business, I have been able to create more employment opportunities.” 

It’s not difficult to tell that Jeanneke has a sharp mind, but she’s also got the heart of an entrepreneur. So, she owns a stationery and gift store in Franschhoek, too. From what she tells us, this is only the beginning!

“I am inspired to continue growing businesses in order to create jobs and to contribute positively to our economy.”

Many mountains to climb, and milestones to celebrate

Mia Mélange (and Jeanneke) has had some incredible achievements during its short journey. Last year, Jeanneke was was selected for Investec’s textile-focused CSI programme, and travelled to Berlin, Germany. 

“Mia Mélange celebrates a milestone every time we achieve our highest turnover month in the history of the business (the last one was last month). Another major milestone is every time we create another employment position. Mia Mélange grew from having two employees to 10.”

Still, growing a startup is seldom (scrap that, NEVER) without a few challenges. Jeanneke says that hers are the red tape and administrative tasks imposed by government. 

“I feel there should be a lot more flexibility for small businesses. Labour laws are also a major deterrent to the creation of employment opportunities.”

Of course, leading a balanced life is another challenge, and one faced by all entrepreneurs (we’re looking at you, with the giant cup of coffee and dusty dancing shoes!). Luckily, Jeanneke shared her approach to dealing with the pressures of startup life, and says that scheduling time for social activities and exercise is very important. 

“It’s a good idea to have fixed appointments, so that you have commitments. Entrepreneurship is a journey, not a destination. If you set your life up so that you make sure you’re enjoying the journey, then your healthy and balanced life will fall into place. If you are only working to an end goal and you’re not enjoying the daily journey, it will be more difficult.”

Why entrepreneurship matters to Jeanneke, and South Africa

Jeanneke is passionate about entrepreneurship, to say the least. Much like us, she believes that entrepreneurship is one of the most fundamental drivers of our economy, and a very important source of job creation. 

“I believe that entrepreneurs should be supported by the government and consumers. Consumers need to support local businesses and buy products that are manufactured locally.”

Of course, running a successful small business in South Africa comes with its own ‘special’ set of obstacles. After all, we have load shedding, an unstable currency and weak education systems to deal with. But Jeanneke doesn’t see these as obstacles, she sees them as opportunities!

“Being an entrepreneur in South Africa is very exciting. There are new challenges daily that inspire us to keep innovating. During load shedding, we developed new products that could be produced without electricity – we called them the Eskom planters! I believe there’s much opportunity for entrepreneurs in South Africa. For example, when our currency is weak, we have an amazing opportunity to export. When our currency is strong, focus on local sales.”

Jeanneke believes that a positive attitude is key, and she’s definitely leading by example. For her, innovation is the magic ingredient for adapting to change. She tells us…

“Don’t become despondent – it takes ten years to become an overnight success. And don’t underestimate how much hard work will have to go into it. Have clear goals and break them down into manageable chunks.”

Adopt the same positive attitude, and you could be living the dream like Jeanneke. Yep, the dream! Because despite many challenges, Jeanneke is having a blast. When we asked her what she loved about her role as owner of Mia Mélange, she said “How much time do you have?”. 

“This is a long list! I love the daily challenge of making sure there are enough orders to keep the artisans busy (and paid!), I love that I create jobs (for mostly single moms who support their families), I love my talented and hardworking team, I love designing and developing products, I love that we export a lot (bringing lots of foreign revenue into South Africa), I love the freedom of being my own boss, I love that I get to travel for work, I love exploring new markets, I love exploring new materials (we are working on using materials made from recycled plastic bottles), I love when customers really appreciate our products, I love getting my hands dirty and working on all aspects of the business, I love meeting interesting people in my industry, etc, etc!”

You can find Mia Mélange on Facebook and Instagram. And if you have any thoughts or questions about Jeanneke and Mia Mélange, be sure to leave them in the comments below!

1 Comment

Lilana Searle

Jeanneke and her husband Simon make a formidable team.

Reply to Lilana Searle

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