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The coronavirus pandemic not only affected healthcare across the globe, but it also had a tremendous impact on businesses and the world’s economy. Statistics have revealed that the pandemic led to a heavy rise in unemployment rates as well as huge falls in the stock market (1).

Many businesses have had to shut down. That said, there are a few others who have found innovative ways to stay in business during a pandemic. In our digital series hosted on the Nielsen Network, called The Business of Health, we spoke to Donovan Bailey about how his business pivoted to health during the pandemic.

Donovan Bailey on Expanding an Innovative Business During a Pandemic

Donovan Bailey is the Durban-based CEO of Expand A Sign, a company that Bailey describes as a ‘textile printing business’.

Over the past few years, the company has created innovative opportunities from its existing infrastructure. Management founded Uzwelo Bags, to focus on producing sustainable products and building opportunities not just for ourselves, but for those around us and their communities. The management dreamed and spoke about how lives could change, how families could be empowered, and how communities could be uplifted and brought out of poverty through skill development, entrepreneurship, education, and giving people real hope.

Using waste to make goods

Bailey says the company began pursuing the idea of using ExpandA Sign’s waste fabric that normally goes into landfills to make functional, stylish, and affordable bags of all shapes and sizes.

They trained people to make them, in their communities, an entrepreneurial opportunity.  Uzwelo has since grown into a significant enterprise, offering a range of unique and truly South African bags.  Literally, each one is different. They are fashionable, durable, and cater to every aspect of South African life. This includes fashion, shopping, travel, work, sport, and school.

Pandemic opportunities

The company did not stop there. Bailey wanted to find a way to support his employees and their families during the lockdown period. As a result, the company switched from manufacturing signs to manufacturing face masks.

Today, people from all over the world are buying these innovative masks which are creating employment and sustainability.

“Thankfully my staff is well versed in sewing and seaming. So it was a quick and easy adaption,” he explained. He also states that the key to being an entrepreneur lies in the ability to adapt.

Granted these masks are not classified as PPE medical masks. However, they have been tested, and they can be washed, sterilized, and used again. 

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The video interview with Donovan Bailey contains the full dialogue of this interview and you can watch it below.

Uzwelo Bags

Uzwelo was started three years ago, born out of the need to create a use for Expand a Sign’s waste fabric whilst also looking at opportunities to help change the country’s socio-economic and conservation issues.

The brand takes this waste fabric and turns it into functional, stylish and affordable bags of every conceivable shape, with the aid of women from local communities who sew these beautiful, one of a kind bags.

Proceeds from the sale of these bags support these women and their immediate families. A percentage is also donated to The Bateleurs. This is a Non-Profit Company with over 200 volunteer pilots and aircraft flying for environmental and conservation issues.

From these bags, came further innovative ideas on how we can do more for the environment. Our R&D into rPET has allowed us to create beautiful rPET flet and stitchbond bags, whilst finding a solution for our plastic pollution problem in South Africa. Each bag is created from 100% South African PET waste.

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.