Khanyi Dhlomo is CEO of Ndalo Media and Ndalo Luxury Ventures, and a magazine publisher. She recently flung wide the doors of Luminance, her luxury boutique department store in Hyde Park, Joburg, and in doing so has returned to her roots, writes Sue Grant-Marshall
Khanyi Dhlomo was a slip of a girl, hardly out of her teens, when the boss of South Africa’s largest media empire decided to make her editor of his top black women’s magazine, True Love.
That’s the effect the quiet, reserved but determined then BCom student had on people.
She halted her studies, temporarily, edited the magazine for eight years, during which its circulation doubled and awards rained down on it, and then decided to pursue business.
Nearly all her friends and colleagues thought she was crazy to bow out of so successful an editorship with its glamorous profile, “and they made sure they told me so”, says Dhlomo with a wry smile.
Nevertheless, she left for Paris in 2003 with a BA in Communications and Industrial Psychology, which she’d gained while simultaneously being an editor and the mother of two babies.
It was while she was manager of SA Tourism in France and strolling the fashionable streets of Paris, gazing at their stunning stores, that the idea of Luminance first began to glimmer in her mind.
But being Dhlomo, she then dived even deeper into business waters by doing an MBA at Harvard Business School, Boston, in the United States.
“There were 90 in my class and 900 in my year,” she says, recalling how hard she worked alongside fellows from all over the world.
Apart from her excellent degree, she acquired two other major assets there.
They were top Chicago store designers, JGA Store Design, Brand Strategy and Retail Architecture, as well as a network that included entries to some of the top luxury brands in the world. These include Alexander McQueen, Manolo Blahnik, Giorgio Armani, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta.
On her return to South Africa in 2007, she stuck to what she knew best though, and launched Ndalo Media, a joint venture between herself and Media24, one of the country’s leading media companies.
Today, five years on, it publishes Sawubona (SAA’s in-flight magazine), Destiny and Destiny Man magazines. It is also the home of DestinyConnect and DestinyMan.com, “two of South Africa’s fastest-growing social networks for businesspeople and entrepreneurs”.
It’s that last word that most defines Dhlomo, for on her return from America in 2007, she told a journalist: “I am, like all my family, essentially an entrepreneur. The retail business is in our veins.”
Her grandfather, a teacher and businessman, began buying land in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1930s. In time her father, Oscar Dhlomo, bought the land and developed shopping centres on some of it, as well as owning retail businesses.
“My mother ran them. It was due to the stores, which I used to run in and out of, that my parents were able to provide my excellent education.”
Dhlomo was the first black girl at Girls Collegiate, now Wykeham, in Pietermaritzburg. “It was tough, for my fellow boarders were children of wealthy Natal sugar farmers whose interaction with black people had been as farm labourers.”
But Dhlomo says that the experience prepared her “for being on my own in difficult situations as well as being a pioneer”.
Yet again, she’s playing the latter role. Luminance is the first boutique department store in the country – and the first in Africa – to have such a comprehensive selection of international labels. They sell alongside African designers with prices ranging from R500 to R90 000.
It looks like an art gallery, thanks to local John Jacob Interiors, who took over from the Chicago company, and Dhlomo uses the word ‘curated’ often as she describes the local art and fashion gracing its elegant shelves.
“We have Imiso ceramics from Cape Town, beaded kitchen accessories from rural KZN women and art by Nelson Makamo. The latter has sold some of his work to Giorgio Armani, so there’s a satisfactory blending and bringing together of local and international products,” says Dhlomo.
She and her mother, Venetia, are majority shareholders in Luminance, having invested R15 million in it together with leading businesswoman Judy Dlamini. They obtained R34.1 million from the National Empowerment Fund and 58% of the latter funding remains in South Africa to support the local economy.
The deep pile carpets, muted lighting and artworks do not invite the usual flick-flack most of us do as we zip through clothes rails. So seeing children’s wear that creates images of sticky little fingers on dresses worth R40 000 has Dhlomo exclaiming that she and husband Chinezi Chijioke have a three-year-old daughter, “and I’ll make a plan”.
Maybe part of that will be a daughter following in a mother’s entrepreneurial footsteps – again.
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