I was given a baby sleeping bag for Christmas and became so fond of it that I decided I had to make more of these for the South African market. Only problem, I had never touched a needle in my life. But living out in the sticks teaches one to become resourceful – that’s how, in 2010 with an old vintage sewing machine and R200 worth of fabrics I started Mathilde & Co.

–  Gwen, Owner of Mathilde & Co.

Tatenda Mark (TM): Thank you for sharing your story with Alumni Valley. Can you tell us a bit about Mathilde & Co., and where it all started?

Gwen Gosselin (GG): Well, after travelling the world as an adventure tour guide, and with not a creative bone in my body, I moved to a funky little town called Barrydale, in the Klein Karoo and had a lovely baby girl. I was given a baby sleeping bag for Christmas and became so fond of it that I decided I had to make more of these for the South African market. Only problem, I had never touched a needle in my life. But living out in the sticks teaches one to become resourceful – that’s how, in 2010 with an old vintage sewing machine and R200 worth of fabrics I started Mathilde & Co.

I taught myself how to sew and made some lovely colourful bags of my own… One thing lead to another and 4 years later, I now provide part time work for 5 ladies in a small community where fruit picking and house cleaning are the main options.Together we now make colourful teething toys, which are real hit with the babies and tourists also love them as they are easy to take home, and so African with the little SA flag ribbons on the neck.

And so it is here that we work, laugh, chat with our children running around – and produce high quality cotton items, exporting all over the world already! Isn’t life in South Africa grand??

Our biggest achievement so far is that we have started exporting our products to the UK and our little giraffes were available at the British museum of London during the Arts and Crafts of South Africa exhibition.

–  Gwen

The best thing about the country side is that you’re in the real. Our little girls play rough and get dirty. So what did we do? We came up with this picture perfect girly girl dress made out of our trademark Shweshwe: a strong, durable, beautiful fabric that you can wash over and over again. Now princesses can be princesses and still play rough in their pretty dresses.

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And so it went, and we made cushions, bags, bunting, cards, headbands, more dresses, trousers, more dresses all in Shweshwe and far from the traditional cuts and shapes: you could say Our collection is based on Classic Western lines in Modern African Colours, which we believe reflects our colourful, multicultural nation.

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TM: I can imagine that operating from such a remote area must be quite challenging. 

GG: Starting a business in a remote location is very tricky. The closest fabric shop is about 179kms away so you have to trust yourself and buy everything in bulk hoping any particular design is going to be a success! Your learn to make a plan and work twice as hard. Finding qualified staff is also an issue if you’re working in a specific field, but you learn to find a way to overcome those challenges!

…if you know your idea is good and you’ve done the research, don’t give up because it won’t be easy and many times you may want to give up. It doesn’t happen over night! It took me  whole year before I even made the first sleeping bag I was happy with!

– Gwen

TM: I guess you really have to become quite resourceful! Would you say you have any stand out accomplishments in your years of successfully running the business? 

GG: Our biggest achievement so far is that we have started exporting our products to the UK and our little giraffes were available at the British museum of London during the Arts and Crafts of South Africa exhibition.

Mathilde & Co.

Mathilde & Co.

I decided to move to the country side for a lifestyle change but then was faced with the lack of jobs so decided to start my own business and ideally create jobs for other people too! Sounds easy!

– Gwen

TM: That’s incredible! What would you say to people who would like to achieve success in their business, just like you have over the years?

GG: It may sounds like a cliché, but if you know your idea is good and you’ve done the research, don’t give up because it won’t be easy and many times you may want to give up. It doesn’t happen over night! It took me  whole year before I even made the first sleeping bag I was happy with!


Be sure to get in contact with Gwen to find out more about Mathilde & Co.:


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