Limpopo-based entrepreneur Sewela Mokoena on her Eleven28 Pink Gin

Founder of Eleven28 Gin Sewela Mokoena
Founder of Eleven28 Gin Sewela Mokoena

How did the business come about?

I think it was more about grabbing an opportunity that presented itself. I love gin and have been following some of the local gin brands. I wanted to do something in line with what I like to drink, and to satisfy my curiosity and creativity. So I went and got myself a certificate to learn how to distill. As it stands, besides gin, I can also distill whisky and vodka.

How was the business funded in the beginning?

It is self-funded all the way, financed by my salary. I work in marketing and I still have my 9-5 job. This is my first business, so I needed to get a couple of things out of the way first, to see if this is viable and if it will be safe if I lose my job. I needed to make sure because it’s still a new baby, only one year old.

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Can you tell us more about the gin itself?

I’m currently still outsourcing to a distillery until I have enough (capital) to build my own. It’s my recipe, made from a maize-based alcohol (not from grape or sugar-cane.) The infusion came about because I wanted something pink and fruity (pomegranate and rose), and knowing that I can access the ingredients easily and locally, as I’m based in Limpopo, where they are in abundance.

What makes your gin and business unique?

It’s a start-up, literally from the ground up, without money. And to tackle something like this without money you needed to get the expertise. Because a lot of the people who are in the gin business today, are not the ones that started it. They are basically just the face of it and haven’t gone for the training. What makes my gin unique is that it’s the first pink gin from Limpopo, that is maize -based (single grain). It has seven botanicals and has been distilled seven times.

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What have the highlights and challenges for you so far on this gin-creating journey?

The highlight was being named the first black woman, below the age of 30, to distill gin in South Africa. It was such a proud moment for me because I was able to start something and finish it. I wanted to create something that was unique to who I am, within the climate of where the alcohol business was heading in South Africa.

Then over and above the money challenges, when you are from a black background and have a very conservative family, it’s not looked upon fondly. All they saw was that I love to drink so much, that I would even create my own alcohol [chuckles]. They don’t understand that it’s a passion.

What tips do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

If you have a dream, pursue it. Don’t wait for someone to give you funding or give up on it. Also, as much as much as you may be clued-up about something, still learn more about it. That will give you and your business an edge.

Also, learning more doesn’t necessarily mean attending school. Learn from your surroundings, from prospective clients and from people who are succeeding in the field you want to get into.

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