The construction world was not an industry Kekeletso and Kedibone Tsiloane were aware of or understood. However, the South African sisters got involved in the industry through their father who had a construction business he started in 1999.
The two sisters recalled when they were quite young, they would visit their father on site each day when they closed from school. They would see how buildings start from scratch and how the business runs on the back end.
When their father saw that they have an interest in construction, he registered a business in their name in 2013. They began manufacturing cement bricks manually.
However, Kekeletso and Kedibone wanted to do something different and innovative that will set them apart from other competitors. They came across an elderly waste picker who explained to them how plastic recycling creates income for her, allows her to take care of her grandkids and afford medication.
“My sister is also quite strict about litter – even growing up, she was one of those people who would tidy up after others,” Kekeletso told BizNews. “We realized that we want to do something in the plastic recycling space – but also stick to what we know, which is construction. We then looked at how we can use plastic in the manufacturing of our bricks. This went on for about a year until we built something we were comfortable with and decided to take for product testing.”
The sisters now own Ramtsilo Manufacturing and Construction, a 100% Black, female-owned company. Their company is also the first to make plastic bricks in South Africa, according to News24. They manufacture different sizes of their bricks and they do so in accordance with the standards from the South African Bureau of Standards.
“We’ve got the maxi, stock and the pavers. For the pavers, we’ve got about 20% plastic – and this is because of the required strength of the product, according to the standards. Then with the maxi and stock bricks, it’s about 30% plastic,” Kekeletso noted.
Today, their waste recycling plant employs 50 waste pickers in South Africa’s Free State and Gauteng provinces. According to the sisters, they have been able to create direct employment for the people who work at their factory.
“The informal waste pickers, this sort of formalizes their job, because they do one of the most undignified jobs out there. But they’re actually the initiators of an economy,” according to Kekeletso. “They’re the people who ensure that we recycle by collecting that waste. We are very proud to be working with them and creating a livelihood for them through the manufacturing of our bricks.”
The sisters noted that what they wanted to do was create a product that was as practical as possible. “We then went into processing the products in such a way that when you have a look at the product, you would not be able to tell whether it’s the conventional cement brick or our plastic brick.”
They noted that in the development of their IP, they ensured that they process the plastic in such a way that even if the brick was to be broken in half or a building was demolished, there would not be any traces of plastic.
The sisters have also landed a major partnership with building material retailer Builders Warehouse. “When Builders Warehouse heard of us, it was while we’re still very much in the startup phase – our capacity at the time was so low,” Kekeletso said. “When we sat with them they said, ‘that’s fine, we’ll grow with you. But we need to get to a point where your product is at a certain level to be in the store.’”
Their products went through testing which helped them to learn some of the testing requirements that are out there.
“Having it on the Builders Warehouse shelves – granted, it’s still growing because our capacity is still growing, so it’s still a few stores – but we are growing with the brand to make sure that our footprint is spread out as much as possible,” she noted.