On first meeting Yondela Sihlobo, the phrase “dynamite comes in small packages” springs to mind. With her bubbly personality and friendly smile, she is the epitome of warmth and friendliness.
The White River-based mum of two is also a businesswoman – she owns Ruby Models, is a pageant director and also an audit manager for the Mpumalanga Economic Regulator. After completing her BCom in accounting sciences in Pretoria, Yondela moved to the Lowveld, intending to stay for three years while doing her articles. “That was the plan,” she laughs, “but destiny had other ideas. I met and married my husband, Bheki Mlambo, and we had our two kids, Lukhanyo (7) and Luthando (2).”
Yondela’s true passion lies in helping people to embrace their own individuality and in doing
so to become the best version of themselves. “The thing is that society’s norms are not always accurate representations of how things should be. I am passionate about empowering our youth, both male and female. My objective is to make sure my clients do not measure their beauty and value based on what societal measures are but to embrace their own God-given beauty because each person’s beauty comes from whatever it is that makes them exceptional. “I have wanted to model ever since I was seven. As a teen, I was told I was too short, but the modelling industry has since evolved and is still evolving, so there are opportunities for each and every person. After having my first child at the age of 30, I decided to pursue my passion and the rest is history!”
“Following your dreams can make life a little frantic and it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that Yondela is in fact a shy and private person, despite being in the spotlight so much. “Because I work in this industry, everyone assumes I’m a people person, but I’m actually an introvert. I spend a lot of my time with people and my schedule is hectic,” she sighs. “Apart from running Ruby Models, I’m employed full-time and I’m a mother and wife. Because I love all of these aspects of my life, I quite enjoy the frenzied nature of it all. I’ve also realised the importance of balancing my daily schedule and have learnt how to delegate. I now have an assistant at the modelling school as well as someone to help out with the kids at home. Some responsibilities can’t be delegated, but having outside help does enable me to enjoy a little more me time!”
While keeping busy and having her hands full may be the reality for Yondela, she is quick to admit that business in South Africa, especially for women, is tough, and even more sosince Covid-19 came along. “Bear in mind that our country was already in a recession before the pandemic, and then lockdown came. As a woman, you have so many roles to play, but then we have also been given the ability to multitask and we make great leaders, therefore we do have the tools to rise to the challenge. And because the Lowveld is predominantly rural, it isn’t always possible for people to support business ventures, especially in my industry, as they have to travel far, but there is definitely still a great spirit of ubuntu in South Africa and the Lowveld.
“Focus, persistence and consistency are the keys to overcoming challenges! As with so many things, business needs to be able to evolve and adapt to the current times. One thing I can say to aspiring female business owners in South Africa is never be scared to ask for help; grab new opportunities and learn from each new process.”
Covid and lockdown have been tough, but they have taught Yondela a few things, such as to be more intentional about life, to spend time wisely and to make the best use of what she has been granted. “I lost two family members due to the virus,” she says. “It made me realise life is short; the only sure thing is right now. So take the risks, make use of opportunities seize every moment. Tomorrow is never certain!”
Photographer: TANYA ERASMUS