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Feda Rahman

Drive for upliftment pays off in property successes

Feda Rahman’s business, Petite Home Decor, turns drab spaces into beautiful and stylish ones. Amazingly, the same thing seems to happen to the wider world around her if her success with her business property transactions is anything to go by.

Twice in a row, the business premises which she bought with the help of finance from Business Partners Limited have turned into major investment successes, rivalling that of Petite Home Decor itself.

In the mid- 90s, Sir Lowry Road near the centre of Cape Town was a ramshackle strip of mostly vacant buildings owned by absentee landlords. Feda remembers the rats scurrying away as she opened up in the mornings when she just moved into one of the neglected properties. Six months later she bought the building with Business Partners Ltd as a minority shareholder for R500 000.

Over the years, as Feda grew her drapery, upholstery and interior design business, the adjacent buildings were one by one upgraded into fancy offices, studios and coffee shops. In 2013, long after she had bought back her shares from Business Partners Ltd to fully own the property, she sold it for R4.5 million.

She moved her business into 50 Hopkins Street, Salt River, which she bought for R3,5 million, again with Business Partners Ltd as a shareholder, and exactly the same thing happened. Shabby Salt River became trendy, with colleges, craft breweries and creative businesses moving in. Within a few years, she subdivided the building and sold half of it for a whopping R9 million, while her business still occupies the other half.

There might be a bit of luck involved in Feda’s property choices, but more likely it is her eye for possibility and design, her sensitivity to trends, and her drive for upliftment which has been part of her whole life.

After finishing school in the ‘70s in Pietermaritzburg there was no money for further studies, so she found work as a teller at a local supermarket, and worked herself onto the administrative team. Family members in Cape Town urged her to move, and she found a job as the receptionist of a textile mill. The owner spotted her talents, promoted her often and soon she was managing the factory.

He became her “second father”, gave her a sewing machine and encouraged to grow the sewing sideline which she started at home, selling tablecloths and placemats at flea markets over weekends. Soon she was custom making curtains and other decorative features of her clients’ homes while she scaled down her job to managing a showroom for the textile company.

The business became too big for her home, and she rented her first formal business premises in a cheerless complex in Sir Lowry Road. The owner was so impressed with how she livened the space up by painting, cleaning and decorating it that he urged her to move into one of his troublesome buildings further down the road, rent free. It was this building that she bought and transformed in the mid- 90s.

Petite Home Decor became a hub of the interior decorating industry in Cape Town, manufacturing not only curtains, but also brought upholstery and a range of curtain hardware such as rods and brackets under one roof.

At one stage Feda had 70 workers, but through outsourcing and careful workflow design, she now works with a crack team of just more than 20, producing more than ever.

In the last five years she has started stocking textiles for retailing instead of buying for manufacturing only.

Covid-19 has put some of her expansion plans on hold, especially around the upholstery and curtain hardware side of the business, but she is very proud of the fact that she was able to keep busy last year that her staff kept earning their normal wages, overtime and bonuses.

When orders dried up last year, Feda started producing masks and shared the income among her workers.

Meanwhile, her two daughters have joined her in the business and are working, among other things, on an online shop for the business. When she scouts the market for potential properties it is good to know that Business Partners Ltd will back her next move. Knowing that they support her, sharpens her sense of what is possible in any space that she thinks of working in.

At 62, Feda says she loves her business as much as always, and has enough energy for at least one more business move. When she scouts the market for potential properties it is good to know that Business Partners Ltd will back her next move, she says. Knowing that they support her, sharpens her sense of what is possible in any space that she thinks of working in.

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