Local Female Entrepreneurs and Rock Stars in their Industries

Words: Jess Spiro

Girls who rock They say the future is female, but we reckon the present is looking pretty strong too. We are constantly in awe of women who ignore the naysayers and go for their dreams and this group of girls has done just that. To wrap up Women’s Month, we pay homage to some of South Africa’s most inspiring local female entrepreneurs and rock stars.

Kira Lepine-Williams – Owner, Beetbox

Kira Lepine-Williams is the bright and beautiful face behind Beetbox at The Mojo Market, the smoothie and juice bar with a difference.

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into cooking? What piqued your interest in health and wellness?

Since I was a little girl, I loved food and was always fascinated by how you can turn simple ingredients into something really delicious. Growing up in Singapore – where the incredible food culture is so ingrained in everyday life – I remember watching people prepare food with absolute adoration, whether it was the Singaporean street vendors or my mum cooking at home. I subsequently trained to become a Cordon Bleu chef, worked in Michelin star restaurants in London, and then for private clients all over the world. Over time my interest grew towards healthy food and its medicinal-like abilities which lead me to further my studies in New York at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and that has led me to where I am today.

What is the concept behind Beetbox?

Beetbox is a beautiful space where people can get honestly healthy food that leaves you feeling energised, balanced, happy and inspired. There are so many ‘fake-healthy’ foods out there, so I wanted to create something that could not only be used as a platform to help educate people on what is truly healthy, but also a place that created delicious and inspiring food that promotes the values I believe in. We use as much organic produce as possible and we make just about everything from scratch, from our activated nut milks and superfood salad dressings, to our granolas and snacks. We don’t cut corners.

What has been the best thing about opening up Beetbox?

Wow. So many things. I’d say the two best things are the likeminded people that I get to meet everyday and the inspiring conversations I get to be a part of, as well as seeing the changes that our regular customers experience from eating the Beetbox way. Just yesterday a girl came up to me and told me that her acne has improved since she’s been eating cleaner and lowering the acidity in her body.Testimonials like this truly inspire me. Food is powerful and there are so many benefits, both physically and mentally. I want as many people as possible to feel the best they’ve ever felt.

What have been some of the challenges?

For me the biggest challenge has been sourcing ingredients that are ethically grown and produced. The process needs to be gentle not only on the people who grow them but also on the earth. We try and source most of our fruit and veg from local farms (Harvest of Hope is one of our main suppliers) and 90% of the packaging we use is made from either corn or bégasse. We’re not perfect but we’re actively taking measures to get there.

Do you think it’s still quite difficult for women to make their own way in this industry?

I really don’t. People respect you when you live your truth, no matter your gender. I live and breathe everything that I promote at Beetbox everyday and people see that. I educate both women and men, and always feel valued. Before this I worked as a chef in restaurants all over the world and developed honestly healthy products for food companies in New York, and never felt like my opportunities were less than those of my male counterparts. I think your work speaks for itself and that’s what sets you apart. It’s not an industry for the faint-hearted but good work, self-respect and a strong worth ethic go a long way.

What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs wanting to do their own thing?

If you have an idea that keeps you up at night, just do it – don’t wait. If you wait for the perfect time to start a business you’ll always find a reason not to get started. Don’t be scared of failure! You will learn so many lessons from your mistakes that will better position you for future success. And secondly, talk to as many people about your ideas as you can – you never know what amazing insights and contacts will come from those conversations.

How have you celebrated Women’s Month?

By inspiring and education both women and men to reach their health goals … and by drinking hot chocolate elixirs with women who inspire me to be both compassionate and strong.


Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela – Brewmaster, Brewhogs


Apiwe Nxusani Mawela is the passionate brewmaster at Brew Hogs in Johannesburg. She is a co-owner in the business and in 2015, she started her own company – Brewster’s Craft, which offers training, consultancy and quality testing for the craft brewing industry.

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into brewing?

I grew up in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, and I was first intrigued by the science of beer making when I visited an open day at the former Rand Afrikaans University. I then went and completed a BSc degree from University of the Witwatersrand and later my Honours in Microbiology from the University of Pretoria. I joined SABLtd in 2006 through the company’s graduate recruitment programme and underwent an intensive 18 months’ traineeship to attain status of ‘Brewer’ within the SABMiller group. I completed a Diploma in Brewing qualification and the Master Brewer Diploma qualification both through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. I worked for SABLtd for 7 years holding different positions within the giant brewing company, including Brand Brewer, Brewing Area Manager, Craft Brewer before leaving in 2014 to join the Brewhogs team as both Co-owner and Brewmaster.

What has been the best thing about your job?

I’ve had many highlights within my job over the years, the most recent for me has been finally achieving accreditation as a training provider by FoodBev SETA.

What have been some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge in the beginning was finances, as I initially wanted to open my own brewery but ended up partnering up. Breaking the stereotype of a black female brewer has also been somewhat a challenge but I easily overcame this as I proved myself and my capabilities.

Do you think it’s still quite difficult for women to make their own way in this industry?

No, I think it has gotten easier for women to get into this industry, and is now somewhat normal. Even though the numbers are still very minimal, we have seen a great growth in the last year or so. Not only of women brewers but also women getting involved throughout the full chain – on distribution, sales and marketing, including ladies who appreciated beer as a beverage of choice.

Is the beer industry still so male-dominated? Do you think there is anyway to counter this?

Yes the industry is still very much male dominated, but that is slowly changing. Men are also starting to take notice and appreciate the female involvement and contribution, I think this will naturally grow over time. We can improve the growth rate by making brewing interesting to young female learner. I actually do talks at high schools around Joburg on Brewing Science as a career and also touch on the dangers of underage drinking and alcohol abuse.

How have you celebrated Women’s Month?

I was celebrating Women’s Month by hosting a few events that brought the women within the industry together. We had our our main event “Meet The Brewer” on the 9th at Beerhouse Fourways – where we had a few ladies bringing their beers and we had a beer and food pairing evening.


Nikki Albertyn – Owner, LionHeart

Nikki-Albertyn Sweet Lionheart

You’ll recognise Nikki Albertyn from all around Cape Town, in between being a designer, stylist, photographer and even once a valued member of the Crush team. She managed to find time to open LionHeart with her friend and business partner, Karmen.

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into patisserie? Can you tell us a little about Sweet Lionheart?

I’m 27 years old and grew up in Paarl, went to the same school and lived in the same house all my life until I moved to Cape Town to study Multimedia/Graphic Design at Vega. After completing my course I did a short stint in advertising and quickly realised I was destined for sweeter things. I started a food blog while working as a designer for Crush! Online where I was also able to gain some experience in food styling and photography. I left Crush to work as a graphic designer for a friend who had started her own small business. I had grown up loving being behind the pots and pans and decided to enroll in the part-time patisserie course at Silwood while working my day job. Baking was never really my thing but I saw it as an opportunity to be in in the kitchen more and up-skill. I fell in love with the precision and creativity of baking and have been hooked ever since.

What has been the best thing about opening up your own cake company?

Besides for the fact that I am now business partners with my best friend from school, Karmen de Reuck, and we get to make beautiful things, I love the flexibility of what I do. It’s not just cake. It’s making the whole picture come together from admin and planning to social media and photography.

What have been some of the challenges?

I am a little bit of a perfectionist and it has been challenging for me to accept that you cannot please EVERYONE. Other than that, I see each mistake or ‘failure’ as a learning curve and that has only helped me grow as a business owner and a person.

Do you think it’s still quite difficult for women to make their own way in this industry?

I have seen so many women making a success of their businesses in the food industry, and in the creative space in general. I think if you have what it takes it doesn’t matter what gender, race or age you are!

What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs wanting to break into the industry?

Make sure that you differentiate yourself from your competitors, be it visually through your brand image, personality, tone etc. Draw inspiration from various people and businesses that are doing it right – it doesn’t even have to be in the food industry! – but make sure that you present yourself in a unique way. Be true to yourself and stick to your guns. Don’t wait until you think your product/service is PERFECT – you can change and polish along the way. Just get going; if what you do inspires you, you will always be willing to work at it to create a better version of what you are doing.

How have you celebrated Women’s Month?

Ummm… with cake obviously, and some me-and-mom time as she’s the main lady in my life!


Sarah Kennan – Creator, La Leona

La Leona

Sarah Kennan distills the country’s first 100% agave spirit, she’s travelled the world honing these skills and has created a truly authentic (and delicious) product.

What has starting the La Leona been like?

Like trying to start a rocket company on a desert island. At the moment, I am in partnership with a distiller who I work very closely with and we created La Leona 100% Karoo agave spirit product together. It’s been a steep learning curve and a lot of trial and error to make sure we do it right. The goal is always to make sure it’s 100% agave, using local plants and made in the same traditional manner as they do in Mexico.

What has been the best thing about it?

I couldn’t say just one thing, it’s been an incredible journey I feel I’m only just beginning. There are so many great things: the people I have had the opportunity to meet and do business with, using agave sourced locally from the Karoo and supporting the farmers there. I’ve also loved seeing people I don’t know enjoying La Leona in the manner I intended and discovering for themselves the glory that is 100% agave spirits. These have all given me a real kick.

What have been some of the challenges?

Education and a culture shift around how Tequila is drunk in South Africa. Quality 100% agave spirits (Tequila and Mezcals) can be enjoyed like a fine whisky and are very different to the cheap non 100% agave spirits South Africa has been served until now.

Do you think it’s still quite difficult for women to make their own way in this industry?

No, I think if you have real passion and drive anything is possible.

How do you think we can encourage more women to get into the industry?

Inspire and become successful with as much grace and feminine beauty as possible.

How have you celebrated Women’s Month?

Surfing with my agave patterned tights and a bottle of La Leona in hand. Other than that I’ve been finalising the launch of an exciting upgrade in the La Leona branding and some other amazing ideas I can’t wait to put into place for the brand over the next few months.


Michelle Theron – Head Chef, Pierneef  à La Motte


Michelle Theron almost needs no introduction, as the head chef of Pierneef à la Motte, she’s cooking some amazing food and setting a great example for women in the industry.

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into the culinary industry?

I was always interested in cooking – from a very young age. I knew that I wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember and was always tinkering in my mom’s kitchen. I started working in kitchens over school holidays and while I was doing my studies.       

What has been the best thing about heading up the La Motte kitchen?

Being a part of the team at La Motte since the opening really is quite a special thing for me. We have a great team of people working together, all with the same vision and drive. We’re all passionate about modern South African cuisine and the uniqueness of the food from the Cape Winelands. I am really proud to be a part of such a great group of individuals.

What have been some of the challenges?

I am married, I have a child and I even do sport as a hobby. It is not easy and we need to carefully plan our time. This is true of most industries, but chefs often have to work when the rest of the family is at home. I make the most of time with my family, when we are together.

Do you think it’s still quite difficult for women to make their own way in this industry?

I don’t even think we should use the term female or woman chef. I am a chef. I cook, I head up my kitchen and I handle my business. No excuses. Everyone should be respected for their work and creativity – this is the way I choose to lead my team and the result is mutual respect.

What advice do you have for young female chefs wanting to make it in the industry?

Don’t classify yourself. Learn as much as you can, be able to work on every section – pastry through to meat. If you want to head up your own kitchen one day I feel that this is very important

How have you celebrated Women’s Month?

We had a lovely winter holiday in July, so I started Women’s Month with a lot of creativity and inspiration, planning the last part of the year.


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