‘Small steps, big dreams’: Nunabean joins the fight against COVID-19

For the past few months, the UK-South Africa Tech Hub (together with the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative) has been collaborating with SMME/Entrepreneurial businesses on the Developer Placement Programme.

The Developer Placement Programme is an initiative that aims to provide work-readiness opportunities to youth with digital skills. The programme does this by placing developer interns at entrepreneurial businesses for 6 months.

One of the entrepreneurial businesses participating in the programme is Nunabean. Nunabean is a local baby/kids brand selling unique, handmade products that are not only special but also environmentally friendly and give back to the community.

“Nunabean is my daughter’s nickname. The business was born out of love and big dreams for my little one,” explains founder Anthea Forlee. “The idea for the company came with the birth of my daughter. She inspired the brand. When I was retrenched a year later I had to turn my hobby into a business. I decided to go back to my essence, do what I love, and produce products that brought me joy.”

The company, which was founded in 2012-2013, started as a weekend hobby, teaching women to sew. Anthea shares that her vision for her brand is creating the best quality products, using local & natural fibres. “To create products that bring joy to our customers, uplift society and cause no unnecessary harm to the environment.”

Since starting Nunabean, Anthea has enjoyed a few highlights and success stories. “The security guard at my daughters’ playschool whom I taught to knit, went on to sell beanies to the parents at the school. This ensured an extra income over and above his security job.

“Some of my ladies used the money they made on weekends sewing at Nunabean to pay for their kids’ university fees and buy school books. Others were inspired to start their businesses. Other highlights before lockdown were monthly tea parties, catching up with the grannies and talking shop.”

The journey has also had its fair share of challenges, including maintaining a chain supply for materials, as well as the cost of materials and labour in SA. Further, like many companies around the world, COVID-19 pandemic has caused Nunabean extreme distress.

“I was unprepared for the sudden income stream cut-off and thus unable to continue supporting my 2 shop staff, 33 knitters and the families that come with them. I was also unable to assist/teach the 3 interns that I had taken on just before lockdown and sitting on masses of unsold stock and materials.”

However, despite the challenges, Nunabean has seen and grabbed the opportunity to help curb the spread of COVID-19. “We would like to introduce The Nunabean Essential T-Mask which is comfortable (like a T-shirt), easily washable and reusable. It is made from locally grown & manufactured 100% cotton material, which is biodegradable. These eco-friendly masks are perfect for kids and adults.

When Nunabean closed for lockdown, I realized how many people Nunabean was supporting. I had 2 shops, 33 knitters, my 3 interns, and they all had families. These are unprecedented times and none of us was ready for it. The main stream of income stopped but the bills kept on rolling in. I knew I had to do something, make something”.

The goal was to develop something essential, but well-designed and made with the same love and attention as any other Nunabean product. After 8 weeks, sleepless nights, and endless days of research Anthea decided to jump on the “face mask bandwagon”.

“There are masses of ideas and patterns already out there. The struggle was settling on a comfortable design, fitted well, worked for kids and could be made using natural locally produced fabrics. After multiple tutorials, handmade samples, and testing materials (including my favourite t-shirt), I settled on what I would like to l call the T-Mask.”

As this project happened during Level 5 Lockdown, materials and resources were limited and extremely difficult to find. Hence, the decision to go with available materials and colours. “The aim was to “keep it local” as much as possible, and we are happy to say we found a locally grown & manufactured 100% cotton material (which is biodegradable). This not only makes the Nunabean T-Mask 100% Made in Cape Town, South Africa but also eco-friendly.”

Anthea adds that the idea to produce face masks was born out of desperation.

“While my main income stream was suddenly cut off I still had to continue paying for my daughter’s education and basic living expenses. The bills were piling up and I was worried for my financial future.

“I dug deep for inspiration. I spent multiple hours and sleepless nights reading and researching. Thank goodness for my graphic design background, the experience that came with developing the Nunabean brand and technology of course. It enabled me to source materials and create a product that I can be proud of.”

Fiona Tabraham

Fiona Tabraham is a strategic workforce development expert with a career founded on a resolute commitment to inclusivity, talent nurturing, and societal impact. Chief Executive of CAPACITI Digital Career Accelerator, Fiona’s passion for equity has charted pathways across numerous organisations, guiding bespoke Talent Initiatives, Future Leadership Development Programs, and transformative Career Pathway Development. Her tenure at Network Rail bore inclusive talent strategies, STEM advocacy, and innovative Graduate, Apprentice, and Internship initiatives. A trusted partner to a number of governmental, corporate and impact driven entities, Fiona empowers individuals and organisations, fostering diverse recruitment practices and innovative talent strategies. Fiona’s impact transcends the tech sector, positioning her as a leading voice for inclusive digital career initiatives.