When Zinhle Lorraine started her charcoal and briquette business, Six To Six Brands, it was out of the need to put food on the table. Now, by using invasive alien and waste plants to make eco-briquettes, she hopes to save the planet and empower the poor.
When she got the idea in December 2006, she was still a chemical engineering student at Vaal University of Technology, and she could not go home due to work commitments.
“I got into the briquettes or the charcoal business because I was looking for a bag [of charcoal] and I couldn’t find one. I started wondering how I can make one for myself, so I did more research. That’s how I started doing the briquettes.”
The mother of two was born and raised in Bethal in Mpumalanga, but is now based in Ermelo. During her research into briquette-making, she found that millions of poor people across the continent have limited access to formal energy sources. Added to that is the ever-increasing cost of cooking gas and kerosene. She felt that if she could make a low-cost energy source, maybe more people could be lifted out of poverty.
“I wanted to not just do the charcoal or briquette business, but also to provide some solution for poverty in Africa as a whole,” she says.
Looking even further, she took aim not only at poverty, but also at sustainability. She uses materials like invasive plants and organic or agricultural waste to make her products. “I’m using that because I’m on a mission to save the planet. I’m on a mission to include farmers and other businesspeople as well. I collect the waste from them so that they don’t take it to landfills, which means we are saving the planet together.”
Her briquette-making process does not take too long either, although it is weather dependent. “The process is that the raw materials are made wet, then we put it into a mould, then we [sun] dry it. It usually takes a few days, but that depends on the weather.”
No fear of failure
She draws inspiration and motivation from a number of sources. Her belief in hard work shapes how she views the world. She is also not only not afraid of failure, instead she says she is inspired by it.
“Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. At first no one usually believes in you until they see something in your hand. So, I’m inspired by failing and trying again until I get the result.”
She admires people who are able to use the resources they have to make something for themselves. “Seeing people make or do something viable using their hands, using anything that is around them, to do something that will be sustainable in future [inspires me].”
“I want to create employment opportunities so that the crime rate can decrease.”
Currently, Lorainne’s primary customers are chicken farmers. “They buy the briquettes to bring warmth in their chicken houses.”
The Six To Six brand’s products are not just limited to farmers, though. “Anyone who is interested in low-cost energy is my target.”
When picturing the future of her business, Lorraine’s vision is clear. Not only does she want to save the planet, but she also wants to inspire people, especially young people, to create their own businesses using her products.
“I want to create job opportunities so that the crime rate can decrease. I want more youth to open shops so that they are able to take my products and create self-employment so that we can provide a solution for what we are currently facing in the country.”