When Thato Kgatlhanye from South Africa saw young kids in her community using plastic bags to carry books she saw it as an opportunity to make something more durable and environmentally friendly hence Rethaka: Repurpose school bags.

She and her childhood friend, Rea Ngwane founded Repurpose Schoolbags an environmentally-friendly innovation made from ‘upcycled’ plastic shopping bags with built-in solar technology that charges up during the day and transforms into a light at night. The initiative targets school children in underprivileged communities.

The idea to incorporate solar energy into the bags was birthed when Kgatlhanye’s mother told her how she grew up using candles for studying, these were not durable and often died out mid-week.

Image taken from African Celebs


She was recently listed on the Forbes 30 under 30, in an interview with Forbes where it was revealed that the company employs 20 people, has many volunteers, and supplies its products to the likes of Standard Bank, Red Bull, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Unilever. It also exports to Namibia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Brazil and aims to expand to 24 African countries.

“I am an entrepreneur like my father, but I also have a social conscience and that can be attributed to my mother. I’m not just in business for profit; I’m in business to do good,” she is quoted in the publication.

Kgatlhanye has a BA degree in brand management from The Vega School of Brand Leadership and has also been selected for an internship in New York with renowned entrepreneur and marketing expert Seth Godin.

Photo: @repurposeschoolbags/Facebook

On the company website the Repurpose schoolbag is said to give a child dignity by day and by night it doubles as a light to study. The organisation has handed over 10,000 Repurpose Schoolbags to children in six countries on the African continent.

Thato has been featured on CNBC Africa, won the ELLE international Impact2 Award, and now partners with several corporations.