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Tanya Bailey

Tanya Bailey

TANYA BAILEY is the vision behind, "Working with materials made from recycled banner fabric and recycled South African bottles - 100% South African, and traceable to source - to make colourful, beautiful Uzwelo bags."

Tanya has a vested interest in SA, which goes beyond building a successful career for herself. The way she conceptualises 'successful' is driven by commitment to inclusivity, evidenced by her business network which mobilises and develops local talent and skills to benefit the broader South African community, including its wildlife.

Tanya sums up Uzwelo's ethos saying, "the stories behind our bags and the people who make them are what drive us every single day to do a better job, to create new ideas, new bags, new projects, involving new people."

New life to waste

Uzwelo gives new life to waste by recycling, reusing and redesigning excess fabrics destined for landfill. Apart from developing local skills and creating jobs, Uzwelo donates funds to 'The Bateleurs Organisation', pilots who donate their time and wings to worthy conservation causes. Donations have assisted returning stranded penguins to the sea and flying back a seal who, having had one too many encounters with sharks, chose land over sea as its preferred habitat!

Uzwelo products include reusable shopping bags, and school bags with built-in ponchos, which are donated in partnership with corporate SA at various events to rural children walking long distances to and from school. As well as removing barriers to education, a school bag is a prized personal possession. Corporates invited to physically participate in the gifting often experience the handover as life changing; their involvement transcends the usual 'just another CSI box to tick', or donation to an anonymous charity.

Offering products which South Africans are invited to invest in challenges them to be intentional in their spending, raising questions not only around 'what' they're investing in, but also 'why', 'how' and 'who'. Reusable shopping bags facilitate a constructive public response to SA's plastic crisis.

After years in the working world, Tanya's passion for sustainability has motivated her purposeful approach to her youngest venture, Uzwelo. She describes a chequered working past, backed by a BCom degree, which she acknowledges has stood her in good stead, a means to an end for her youthful travels and later business enterprises.

Social and environmental conscience

Describing herself as a Jack of all trades, Tanya remembers never having a sense of truly completing anything properly while work hopping between cities. After completing an interior design course in London, she imported and sold decorative goods in SA, but increasingly sustainability as a global issue has provided the context for her Uzwelo Bags, harnessing Tanya's business and creative skills while simultaneously surfacing her social and environmental conscience.

Creating a work-life balance is something Tanya feels she hasn't achieved yet, although she's striving towards this. She observes, "When any business is new, you know you have to give it your all, so you really focus, hours can become days which become months, which can become years." She's grounded in her belief, though, that family always comes first. Having two high-needs premature babies was a compelling reminder of this and much as she is committed to her business, this is never at the expense of meeting her (now teenage) children's needs.


Tanya identifies her mother, having moved with pioneering spirit from continent to continent several times while acquiring new languages each time, as her inspiration. Her children who, despite their not insignificant health challenges continue to meet each day with a good attitude. Tanya is their champion, saying: "They inspire me to go out and be the best I can be; also showing them that we are compassionate is the biggest kindness we can have for this world. They teach compassion all the time... and inspire me to continue to do the work that I do."

The name 'Uzwelo' means, in essence, compassion. Although happy with where Uzwelo is now, Tanya states that she is committed to accomplishing more. "If you feel that you've stopped learning what's the point? You're never going to stop learning! You may think you know everything, but you never do." She explains how every day in her workplace is for her a learning opportunity, with staff who show her a new way, a better way to do something, or learning through simply becoming aware of how something may be perceived from a culturally-different perspective from her own. She'd like Uzwelo to continue to embrace all people from all walks of life.

Do women need to approach work differently from men in order to achieve the same success? Tanya's answer is an emphatic 'yes'. Although she ventures that it may be changing now, she cites the gendered inequality in pay and need for women to take a break when having their children, seldom re-entering the economic sphere at the same level, as making it harder for women than men. "I do think that it's harder - women push harder, fight harder, persevere, possibly harder, than most men had to in the same positions. But I do feel positive about the future, that we're moving in the right direction ..."

Tanya's advice for her younger self, who felt pressured because her peers seemed to know exactly what they wanted to be/do while she had no idea, would be: "I'd be kinder, and more gentle on myself," rather than judgemental because she hadn't yet found her path and say, "Don't worry about it so much, it'll come together, just keep going."

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