f you have lived in Stellenbosch, chances are you’ve heard of Doreen Williams. Many a student has taken clothes to her for altering. A master of a needle and a sewing machine, Williams is a whiz when it comes to making garments fit, and her reputation extends beyond South Africa’s borders. Building a successful business wasn’t easy, but Williams says she has learnt a lot.
It’s my shop in Stellenbosch, where I do general sewing and alterations to clothing.
My uncle was a tailor and he took me under his wing when I was very young and taught me the art of sewing.
He also taught me how to take great care of my eyes and hands. Through hard work, with those parts of the body, you put food on the table for your family. And that’s how it went for me.
I worked for many years under the management of other tailors. It was always clear to me that I had a great passion for the work and was good at it. Customers liked me because I listened to their needs and helped them until they were satisfied. In 2000, I opened my small shop. It was very hard work and I had to stay focused every month to cover all my expenses and pay myself a salary.
My business grew quickly and soon I could employ someone. I rented a larger place, where I am today. There hasn’t been a single day when Doreen’s Alterations has been without work. I am very grateful for that.
It has always been the main goal of my business to create jobs and to put food on the table for others. I am passionate about my community. What better way to contribute to the community than with job creation?
It is difficult for me to find employees to do the work with as much passion and ethics as I have. If my employees are not focused and make mistakes, my name is dragged through the mud. I have often had to redo work and, in the end, suffered a loss because of poor work ethic.
I grew up poor and learnt in my childhood to turn over every penny 10 times.
My mother taught me not to buy for the fun of it. You must only buy if you cannot manage without something.
I believe in living sparingly and only buying with cash. I do not want to get into debt at the bank. I used taxis until I could buy myself a car with cash. All the machines and the furniture in my shop were bought with hard cash, through hard work.
Work hard. I still work hard and my business is 14 years old. I’ve slept in the shop many nights; that’s how hard I work.
But you have to stay positive. There is no quick way to riches. It is also important to be humble and to start small. I started very small and never dreamt I would be where I am today.
I want to expand. My door is open for work.
Who can afford to retire these days? I will keep on working until I can’t carry on. Besides, I enjoy the profit from my business and spoiling myself. I regularly run the Comrades Marathon and have been overseas a few times – all paid for with hard cash.
My service to the community and to see a satisfied customer. That makes me very happy. Students’ parents have phoned me from as far as Namibia and Switzerland to say thank you, or to give me more work. That is a huge compliment. And then, of course, I work for my own money. What I put in, I get out.
Dissatisfied customers. It makes me sick to my stomach.
WOMAN OF THE CLOTH
Doreen Williams, the owner of Doreen’s Alterations