SUNDAY PROFILE with KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
AT five years old, while her peers played with their dolls, Penjani Deborah Ngâ€™uni fantasied about owning a one stop events decoration shop catering for weddings, kitchen parties as well as corporate functions.
That dream is now a reality. Penjani is seeing her dream unfolding through the creation of Devine Touch, a company she registered in 2003. Fortunately a bonus is that she comes from a family of creative minds who she runs the company with.
A Bachelor of Arts degree holder from Greenwich University, Penjani, 30, says that although she is living her dream, she faces a lot of challenges as a young entrepreneur venturing into an industry that is largely dominated by older women.
â€œI have always been busy with my hands. I think I got it from my mother. My first entrepreneurship venture was when I was in my fifth grade. I started by making small baskets out of Geisha soap. They were little artifacts which could be placed in a toilet,â€ She says with a smile.
By the time she was in Grade 12, she was making baskets for flower girls, ring pillows and supply to Flower bouquet at the time. It was her connection with Flower boutique that people took an interest in her creations each time she was doing her deliveries.
â€œPeople would approach me and ask what other services I was into. That was how word about my decoration business begun to spread. I did my first wedding dÃ©cor with no experience. Somebody just hired me to do dÃ©cor for a wedding. And thatâ€™s how the business and clientele begun to grow,â€ Pengani says.
But the business was not without challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is penetrating into a venture dominated by older women.
â€œThe other problem was that this industry is an industry for older women, so no one was willing to teach me or mentor me. Each time I approached older women in the business, they would tell me that they do not teach. I should learn the trade on my own. It was frustrating,â€ she says.
However, instead of giving up, Pengani decided to be practical in her Christian faith by seeking Godâ€™s intervention.
â€œMy relationship with the Lord started long before I was born, so I wanted to make it practical. I said Lord, I love this please teach me, help me. I just have to learn how to make beautiful flower arrangements and before I knew it, I engaged my younger sisters into it and we started doing event decorations together. I practically taught myself,â€ she says.
Once the business was registered and running, Penjani says being young seemed to work against them in the beginning but she let her creations and innovations speak for her.
â€œWhenever I look back now, I realise that what was initially our down point then, has become our selling point. When we did our first wedding, people started murmuring when they saw our decor because they doubted our capability but once we were done, everyone was amazed. People wanted to hire us because we had fresh ideas,â€ she says.
Born in Lusaka on June 26, 1986 in a family of five, Pengani says that the wedding industry is huge everywhere including in Zambia but it has challenges. She says access to resources and financing have been big issues.
â€œMy biggest challenge was how to survive in a business that requires heavy capital investment. You need money to invest in those things and thatâ€™s been a huge problem. This may sound rhetorical but you canâ€™t run away from it,â€ Penjani says.
Apart from access to financing, Penjani also complained that there is a problem of proliferation in Zambia especially when people realise that someone engaged in a particular business is riding the waves.
She says in the last 13 years, it seems like every other person has become a decorator quickly adding that that can be a beautiful thing as with it comes a birth point of ingenuity. She says one is constantly on their feet trying to find better ways of improving yourself.
â€œI participated in my Own Boss in 2008 and I was the first runner-up, who went away with nothing. It is said that I was a strong contender but the reality is I would never have won against a person who deals in timber. This is because timber seems like a more serious business than what I am engaged in. It is unfortunate but thatâ€™s the reality,â€ she says.
Pengani says she is excited now with the coming up of Nyamuka Zambia because the top 20 do not walk away empty handed.
And despite having a bachelorâ€™s degree, Pengani regrets that people do not take entrepreneurs serious especially those engaged in the decoration business.
â€œI chose to go full time into entrepreneurship but although there is a growing appreciation for entrepreneurship, there is not as much regard. People respect you more if you have got a full time job,â€ Penjani says.
The first born in her family, Pengani started her nursery at Son-Shine nursery school and later went to Lumuno Primary School from grades one to seven. She later went to Kasisi girls for two terms for her junior secondary education.
From Kasisi Girls Secondary, Pengani went to St Mary Girls Secondary School, where she completed her grade 12. She later proceeded to Zambia Insurance Business College Trust where she did foundation in business administration by ABE and then later graduated from the University of Greenwich with a bachelorâ€™s of arts degree in business studies in 2015.
As an entrepreneur, Penjani notes that unlike in other countries there local industries are well guarded to protect their entrepreneurs and local market, Zambia is yet to institute such measures, a situation that affects many local businesses.
â€œI deal a lot with flowers and in Zambia, I find that most flowers that are sold on the local market are the ones left after they have sorted out the export grade. Such things do not happen in other countries. We need protection from government,â€ she says.
She says there are certain sectors that should not be open to foreign investors to protect the local market and the dÃ©cor business is one of them. Penjani says Government should empower young people tangibly by deliberately creating models that expose young people to programmes.
When asked to describe some of her best moments, Pengani says the weddings of her two younger sisters stand out because there was a lot of sentimental attachments as they happened soon after their mother died.
â€œThere was a lot of pressure primarily from the family but then dynamics do change when you lose a significant individual like that. I was involved in the weddings both on an emotional and family level especially that I am the first born.
Many times I felt like I would crumble but one of the most rewarding things was seeing that those functions became a benchmark for Devine Touch, as people came back to hire. And even if they did not approach us, we would still see it from other decorators in terms of colour schemes,â€ she says.
Penjani says Devine Touch came up with the â€˜Peacockâ€™ theme with a lot of blues and purples for most of their events and the trend has been re-used at many weddings and Kitchen parties in the last one year.
â€œThe Peacock theme has been a new trend; in our own way we are trendsetters. Sometimes, it can be frustrating but then again if someone can draw inspiration from you then you are doing something right,â€ she says with a smile.
Although she once dreamt of being a pilot then later a doctor, Penjani who is also a local gospel musician says she is lucky and happy that she is living what God deposited in her.
â€œIt has not being easy balancing my dÃ©cor business and my music, fortunately the two complement each other. Weekends are busy days for my music and dÃ©cor but I know that without my business, it would have been difficult to support my music because I am not under any label,â€ she says.
Besides travelling, reading, baking and cooking for fun, Pengani says she is now enjoying the responsibility of being an aunt to her younger sisterâ€™s babies.
SUNDAY PROFILE with KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka