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By Hein Kaiser


Paige Southward: Success brews in bubbles

With no money to study and lack of a job, Southward emerges triumphant.

Reality bites but with a strong will and a measure of resilience it is possible to tame it. That’s what Paige Southward, 22, from the West Rand is doing one day at a time, seven days a week.

She has a full-time job and on weekends her bubble tea mobile kiosk treks across Gauteng; event to event. When Southward was 20, she realised she had to make a plan.

“I was unable to find work. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to study, so I didn’t really have any qualifications and nobody wanted to hire me.”

It’s a harsh reality that many young South Africans face in today’s tough economic climate.

But Southward kind of followed in her parent’s footsteps.

A doughnut trailer, which her folks had as a side hustle for several years, also became the family’s main source of income after her dad’s company closed down during Covid.

“It’s a full-time business for our family and, thankfully, it has sustained us until now,” she says.

An unused trailer at her family home became the answer and she put the asset to work and converted it into a mobile kiosk.

She chose bubble tea that at the time was just tiptoeing into the market, as a standout product to serve and sell at events.

Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, originated in Taiwan in the ’80s. It’s a beverage that combines tea, milk and sugar, with the distinctive addition of chewy tapioca pearls or “boba”.

Southward also does a softdrink version with lemonade and flavoured syrup. The pearls, made from tapioca starch, give the drink its signature texture.

Today, bubble tea is a global phenomenon and is especially popular among young people, who are drawn to its playful and customisable nature.

“Kids love the bubbles. They love popping it inside their mouths or, as I have seen a few times, use the straws to make peashooters and chase one another around playgrounds,” she laughs.

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The kiosk has been successful, but it’s a tough gig

Southward recently injured her foot and has been running the business, serving customers, while on crutches. But the show must go on.

“We have to work harder now than ever before,” she says. Southward has noticed a drop in consumer spending, which she reckons is about 15% less than, say, what people spent on refreshments when she first launched the trailer.

“People are feeling the pinch and there are fewer events. “So we have to spend a lot of time seeking out opportunities to sell, while being mindful of a smaller pool of disposable income.

It is a lot of hustling.” Marketing has played an important role in sustaining the business.

Southward has leveraged social media to promote her bubble tea kiosk, but she also credits her parents’ decade-long experience in the industry for helping her make valuable contacts.

That network has been instrumental in getting her business into various events and locations.

Her next step is to open a store that combines her bubble tea with other products and serve waffles and doughnuts, but with a bubble theme.

She dreams of a storefront of dessert-like goodies that will deliver moments of happiness and joy to customers. She is also saving to go to varsity.

“I really wanted to study business or interior design, something along those lines.

“It is very tough for young people in South Africa and there are next to no opportunities unless you create them yourself,” she says.

Unlike many of her peers who are opting for greener pastures elsewhere, Southward says she loves SA too much to leave.

She says she wants to remain here, stick it out and become part of the solution, and build a future in this country.

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