Sbahle Sithole, an entrepreneur, Wits accounting graduate, and owner of SMAIS Bricks, reflects on the lessons she has learned as a businesswoman and the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominant industry. She also speaks about breaking stereotypes and empowering women and her plans for the future.
Sbahle started her brick company right after she graduated from Wits University in February 2022, in a small backyard of a factory, it was unfortunately right before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, that did not slow her down because she managed to get back up and operate post-covid. She reflects on the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominant industry and how she’s breaking the stereotype and empowering other women.
It wasn’t easy for Sbahle when she got into the brick manufacturing industry because she did not have any idea about manufacturing bricks. “When I started my brick business, it was the biggest risk I took because I studied accounting and I had no idea what it is to make a brick or what a perfect brick is”, Sbahle says, reflecting on how it was for her when she got started in this industry.
Apart from not having an idea about manufacturing bricks, the SMAIS Bricks founder had to face the challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominant industry. “Being in such a male-dominant industry, you get a lot of roadblocks and red tape because of the men and that becomes discouraging”. Sbahle speaks about how the most difficult thing about the industry is not getting into it but growing in it. “No one is going to stop [you] from starting, but in terms of growing and getting that contract with construction companies and hardware stores is not easy because men like to think below the belt”, she says. On top of that, she also deals with being undermined a lot because of her looks, she states how “they’ll even ask you questions to minimize you and make you feel like you don’t know what a brick is. Because to them you are just a pretty girl with no brains and there must be a man behind you”.
he has even found herself being told by a man she has met that this business is not for her, and that she should be doing something more feminine because according to him “in six months you will sell your business to me”. However, she didn’t let that discourage her and it was a proud and full-circle moment for her six months later when she won an award at the Consumer Choice Awards Africa for The Most Promising Construction Company instead.
The SMAIS owner did not let these challenges stop her from chasing her dreams and breaking stereotypes. She continues to do so while empowering and creating a platform for other women as well. She hosted a seminar in May, and she reflects on how she used it to empower other women. “The seminar for me was like an outlet and a way to create a community for females who I know are going through the same thing in the manufacturing and construction industry and us forming our own community and network”, she says. The seminar was empowering for women because she had a panellist that consisted of women who are in this industry and her keynote speakers were all women. She states that, initially, it was not an intentional move, “To be honest, it wasn’t by choice but it ended up that way”, but she plans to keep it that way. Because the seminar aims to empower women, “I want to encourage females to want to break barriers in these industries”, she says. She plans on making the seminar an annual and global thing.
Like the true businesswoman that she is, Sbahle has big plans for her future. She is currently in the process of moving SMAIS to Johannesburg because she wants to be more hands-on. She talks about taking her seminar to Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana. She is also excited about launching a sportswear line this year, “I am very excited about it, and I am launching it this year”, she says. The line is called Revenge. It is not revenge on anyone but herself for the times she gave up on herself, “It’s revenge on myself and every downplays moment and thing I said to myself”. While the line will start with bras and tights, Sbahle has a bigger vision. She wants it to be for both women and men and make it more than just athleisure. She plans on making hoodies, track pants, socks, and shoes — she wants to do it all.
Sbahle is not just the CEO of a brick-manufacturing company. She is also a model and influencer. She speaks about how she deals with blurring the lines between the two sides of her. “I’ve always been hard on myself about blurring the lines because I felt like I can’t do both”. Luckily, she realized that nothing is stopping her from doing both because she loves it. She was inspired by the American business-mogul Kimora Lee Simmons. “From a young age, I’ve always looked up to her, she’s an all-rounder and she did it all. She didn’t limit herself”. She is also inspired by other powerful and successful businesswomen like Kim Kardashian, Kris Jenner, and Bonang Matheba. But most of all, her mom inspires her, from growing up watching her mom study and own a business at the same time, “I think that where I got the ‘you can do it all’ mindset”.
She states that she has gotten to the stage where she is not too concerned about how one makes the other look.
“I am who I am. If you want to speak business, let’s speak business. If you want model Sbahle, you’ll get her”
Sbahle is working hard to break the stereotypes and she’s so driven. It is clear that she’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon. We are excited to see what other great things she has on the horizon.