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The Umtha Story
01 November 2012


Small beginnings in 1992

In 1992, Dave Milligan found himself unemployed and keen to delve into a creative entrepreneurship after exiting a corporate management role. A weekend away in Hermanus (a seaside village outside Cape Town) with his wife, Cheryl, would be the unlikely beginning to this adventure. They wandered into a bead shop one morning where Dave was inspired and bought a selection of beads. Doodling turned into a necklace for Cheryl, who was impressed with the created design. Together they recognized the potential of beaded jewellery, and Dave began to experiment with a limited range. They named the fledgling business, Best Beads. The jewellery was sold at craft markets and directly to consumers at their homes. Later, that year Dave began to sell his jewellery to a small number of shops in Cape Town.  A year later, Dave's wife Cheryl left her nursing job and joined him in a full-time capacity. Cheryl is Umtha’s Creative Director, responsible for the innovation & exciting design of Umtha jewellery.

Compassion and hope in 1996

                                                  Photo: Umtha

The vision to empower women from disadvantaged circumstances was born in 1996, when Dave and Cheryl met Jostina Dubase. Jostina was living at St Ann’s in Woodstock (an NGO which provides shelter and care for women in difficult circumstances). Dave and Cheryl realised Jostina’s need for employment and offered her a job. In order to reflect the new direction the business was taking, the name changed from ‘Best Beads’ to ‘Umtha’. Umtha is a Xhosa word meaning ‘ray of light’. The business continued to expand in 1996, seeing new employees from the townships joining Umtha.

Growth and blessing
Two years later Dave and Cheryl, with Jostina Dubase and Nokuzola Gobodo, took hold of an exciting opportunity and exhibited and sold Umtha jewellery at an international conference in the UK. With excellent sales to over 20 000 people, this was a significant time for Umtha, as a strategic relationship with Tearcraft was initiated. Tearcraft is a Fair Trade NPO selling products from developing countries in an annual catalogue. They recently celebrated 40 years of business. Umtha honors Tearcraft (now called Created Gifts) for their ethical trading and skills they have shared with Umtha for over 10 years.

Umtha gradually expanded and increased the number of stores it supplied locally. In addition, Umtha gained new international market access through the Fair Trade network and began to export to new Fair Trade customers in Australia, France and Germany. The business experienced blessing and breakthrough in 2006 and as sales increased, Umtha was able to employ more women.

 Umtha Jewellery exports fashion accessories to
 Europe, Americas and Oceania.      Photo: Umtha

By 2012 – Umtha is now 20! – we are supplying more than 50 major tourist outlets throughout Southern Africa with contemporary Africa-inspired jewellery. International sales now include customers in Switzerland, Netherlands, Czech Republic,  Norway,  Denmark, Sweden and the Caribbean. In order to supply beautiful jewellery to all these new customers, Umtha has employed over 50 people.

Umtha's commitment to Fair Trade and ethical trading principles has been recognized, and the business is now a member of WFTO-Africa and WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization).

Umtha has ridden many highs and lows over the last 20 years. We continue to progress and develop towards the achievement of our vision: to be an excellent business handcrafting quality, innovative jewellery and empowering people from historically disadvantaged communities. All our people have stories to tell, which make us cry and laugh with each other.

To learn more about Umtha, visit website

By Dave Milligan

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