Elizabeth Spies started her career as a needlework teacher in the Free State before she moved to Cape Town in 1992, where she married her husband Ronald. Upon arrival in the windy city, Elizabeth was unemployed. She started looking for jobs and eventually found a position in a promotions company.
Hardly earning enough money, Elizabeth started thinking of ways she could use her needlework skills to earn an additional income. It wasn’t long before she started a ‘side hustle’ in her garage in Wellington, making clothes for toddlers and kids which she sold from her home and at markets.
After four years of selling clothes, Elizabeth saw a gap in the market. She quit her job in promotions and dedicated herself entirely to growing her part-time work as a clothes maker into a real business. She employed two female staff members to assist her in the garage. At the time, Elizabeth was also expecting her first child. It was important for her to not only commit to becoming a successful entrepreneur, but to also enjoy being a full time mom who could work from home.
Not long after that, a mining company in the Northern Cape hired her services, and it is then when things began growing rapidly. The growth gave Elizabeth the confidence to market herself, so she began approaching various schools for business. Being a teacher herself, Elizabeth resonated with the schools and could easily deliver exactly what they were looking for. Through her work with schools, her client list grew quickly and in March her business moved to a small factory in Paarl.
In 2000, Hippo Rock was officially registered as a company with twelve staff members, operating in the Wellington and Paarl area. Five years later, with her business blossoming and an additional twelve staff members on the team, Elizabeth knew that the time had come for her to appoint a permanent salesperson to take over from her. In 2010, Hippo Rock landed a contract with one of the world’s largest and well-known clothing brands, Adidas, and this signalled the readiness to embark on ever larger projects. It was in 2014, when Elizabeth fully bought out her business partner and took the lead.
Elizabeth Spies is the founder and managing director of Hippo Rock. Elizabeth started Hippo Rock in 1992 from her garage in Wellington, with only two staff members. She went from selling clothes at markets to running a fully operational and registered women-owned business. Elizabeth has worked with many reputable companies, including one of the world’s largest clothing brands, Adidas.
It all started with one woman’s dream in a small garage in Wellington, twenty two years ago…
CEO | Founder
The story of female entrepreneurship
Elizabeth didn’t have any capital or bank funding when she started out. Her business was literally built from scratch, fuelled solely by faith and determination. For many years, she could not pay herself and all profits had to go back into the business. In the early days of Hippo Rock, Elizabeth had to make use of outdated machinery (already fifteen years old when she had first bought it). She and her team often worked throughout the night, powering through double shifts at a time so that they could invest in new machinery which would enable them to meet rapidly growing production needs.
They could also not afford to rent a premises, so they had to adapt to working in a very small space as efficiently as they could. Between the years of 2012 and 2013, Elizabeth underwent a laborious task of applying for funding from the Department of Trade and Industry. Even though at many times her odds seem to be stacked against her, she pursued the grander vision. Over the next couple of years, the funding arrived and a good relationship was formed between Hippo Rock and DTI, so much that the business was able to fill its factory with brand new, state-of-the-art machinery.
The future of Hippo Rock
Elizabeth hopes to open a training division within the company in the near future, where she aims to teach younger women the necessary and dying art of needlework, encouraging them to look beyond the glitz and glamour of the finished product.