Johannesburg native, Lelo Mnwnla has been making jewelry for several years to support her family. Her company, Lelo’s Range, offers handmade earrings that she sells at different markets in the city. Mnwnla said she started pursuing the craft when she decided to leave university because she felt slow in school.
She enrolled in a sewing school and began to make clothes and crochet. Soon, she learned about markets and began selling on the streets.
As Mnwnla developed her business, she moved away from sewing to provide her customers with a more unique product.
“Many people are making clothes and I always wanted to be outstanding,” Mnwnla said. “Always as an artist you want that thing of your own so that you can stand out.”
Mnwnla’s early designs were heavily influenced by her mother, who loved bronze. As she bought materials, she realized she could purchases little pieces of bronze that she could mold into designs and she was hooked.
Mnwnla added she likes to incorporate symbolism into her jewelry so that her art can mean something to her customers. She prefers to use symbols that tell a story or are representative of her heritage and culture.
Some of Mnwnla’s favorite designs are keys, which she said unlock the future, and trees and leaves which she said are symbolic of life. Mnwnla said she also like to incorporate elephants because the embrace women.
“I’m selling me here,” Mnwnla said. “It’s like stories of me.”
Mnwnla chose to put her name in her business name to further connect the shop to herself.
She currently sells her designs at Market on Main, a flea market in Johannesburg’s vibrant Maboneng district. The marketplace, held on Sundays, features artisans’ wares from all over the city and offers a range of international food and beverages.
Mnwnla said she hopes to expand her product base to include new items that no one else has. Her latest venture is bags that can be unfolded into decorative mats.
Mnwnla said she gets her inspiration from being receptive to the world around her.
“It’s just loving art,” Mnwnla said.