‘I felt worthless.’  What did Lizl Naude do to turn her fortunes around when a scamster left her and her family at rock bottom?  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

Deep in financial ruin thanks to a con artist and failed business schemes, LIZL NAUDE was in despair. But she found within herself a creative spark that has saved the day. What has her journey been? She told KAT FARQUHARSON

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Lizl (40) grew up in Paarl and lives in Klapmuts with her husband Ashley and daughters Chelsea (12) and Kirsten (10)

‘NO CHILD dreams of facing financial ruin, difficult family dynamics or having to scrape to make ends meet, but this was my reality only a few years ago. Things had gone so differently from what I’d imagined to be my purpose in life that I felt worthless, and more directionless than I could have thought possible.

Through several bad years of business as well as being burgled five times and swindled out of a lot of money by someone who turned out to be a scam artist, my husband and I were faced with crippling debt and angry families who’d invested in the same scam on our recommendation.

Lizl: ‘My husband and I despaired of being able to provide a home for our daughters’  | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

We’d lost our properties and what we had built up over the years, our cars too. We’d also sold most of our possessions to make sure my parents didn’t lose their house.

My two beautiful daughters needed a home of beauty and safety, and my husband and I despaired of being able to provide it. It was a dark period for us.

Once Lizl’s life seemed to be going backwards, now she’s looking forward | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

To backtrack a bit…

Ashley and I had met while working at a community centre in Paarl. Not long afterwards we started dating, and in 2002 we got married.

We both moved into the corporate world. He was at Shoprite and I worked at Santam until I started making jewellery as a hobby. It did so well that in 2004, I resigned to focus on it full time.

I needed a name for my fledgling business and wanted to base it on happy childhood memories. My cousins had struggled to say my name when small, calling me Lilly, and I had always loved Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so I combined these two memories to birth Lilly Loompa.

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 Invested a lot of money
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By 2008, I was pregnant with our second daughter and my family were in a construction and property business together. Through a recommendation from our church, we and our family invested a lot of money into an organisation. Unbeknownst to us and the church leaders, it was a scam. The man running it had targeted many churches and people before disappearing. One amount we heard from the investigators was that he had run off with over R600 million!

The paper trail was difficult to locate. With our businesses already doing badly due to the recession and then losing money in this scam, we were left with nothing but debt and stress. We had ongoing calls from debt collectors and spent a long time trying to hide how bad the situation really was from our family. It was a very difficult time for us as a family, and for me as a person.

‘I outlined things that needed to change, and put a time limit on them,’ says Lizl | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

We felt a call to go to Johannesburg but I wasn’t sure we’d ever crawl out of our hole. We had two young children. Ashley sold firewood and I did catering, we were both doing anything we could to put food on the table.

I began to repair and restore old furniture so we had something in our home. I started blogging about my DIY projects and began getting requests as a writer as people saw my restorations.

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 I gave myself a talking to in the mirror
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I had found a faith through meeting loving, gentle Christians years earlier at the Paarl community centre. In Jozi [Johannesburg], we started attending a new church. Though I was still feeling quite depressed about our situation, through all these trials, God felt very close to me. I’ve realised that when life is going well, we can be more forgetful of connecting with God, but when life’s tough, He can become an anchor. Our Jozi church friends also became a great support structure.

Sometime in 2015, I finally took time to process alone with God all that had happened. I remember picking up a mirror and giving myself a talking to. I outlined things that needed to change and I put a time limit on them, telling myself that in a year’s time I wanted to be in a different space.

Lizl: ‘I focused on finding things people throw in bins to be chucked or recycled, and tried to reimagine them into something useful and attractive.’  Here, she holds her ‘toona can’,  made out of (you guessed it) a used tuna can | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Lizl: ‘Through all these trials, God felt very close to me. I’ve realised that when life is going well, we can be more forgetful of connecting with God, but when life’s tough, He can become an anchor.’  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Family memory: Lizl with husband Ashley and daughters Kirsten and Chelsea

For the next year I focused on finding junk, castaways, things people throw in bins to be chucked or recycled and tried to reimagine them into something useful and attractive. In September 2016, I launched Lilly Loompa Eco Products. I hadn’t connected the dots, but when I looked at the date, I realised it was exactly a year to the day that I had sat with that mirror in my hand and set myself the challenge to reimagine my life.

As time went on, I started seeing potential in many objects. Tuna cans became funky ornaments that could hold small items, a single-use wine bottle became a classy display dish or appetizer tray. Since that time, I’ve slowly been growing this fledgling business. First to the tourism industry and more recently we moved into corporates. I’ve been able to speak about my passion for green design both at local conventions and internationally. I was invited to attend The Africa Forum in Egypt in December 2018, focusing on entrepreneurship and trade in Africa.

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 along the road to recovery
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Ashley and I can see so clearly now how God had other plans for us when we thought we’d been discarded and rendered useless. It’s our passion to see products, homes and most importantly, lives and communities, experience the same grace and renewal so evident in our own. So we started the Chosen Foundation, which aims to help restore families and communities via partnerships with NGOs, as well as working with men at risk within communities.

When asked how can I believe in God in such a troubled world, I have to reply, ‘How can I not?’ He is such a source of love and provision, especially in the dark times. It can seem hard to see God through the suffering, but I believe that, actually, His mercy is new every day.

Beauty from ashes, and value in waste: made from household tin cans and wood, Lilly Loompa’s bell lamp is inspired by old slave bell towers in and around the Western Cape  | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Photo: Natalie Gabriels Photography

We’re not completely out of the situation caused by being swindled, but we’re far along the road to recovery and restoration. My husband is involved in the business as a strategic advisor. Our family is happy and healthy and together. We are living out of the passion and values that have marked our lives. We are using our skills and knowledge to bring restoration not only to waste, but also to bring healing to lives.

Our family and friends who also invested in the scheme took strain and we’ve been rebuilding our relationships over the years. It has caused a lot of heartache and trouble but things are becoming more positive. 

Only more recently did I realise that the time I had when I first started making things for our empty house was actually a gift, helping me see beauty and potential in discarded things. What someone had thrown away and deemed unworthy rubbish could be renewed to be made elegant and useful. Hopefully like me!’

Lizl at work in her home-based workshop. ‘It’s our passion to see products, homes and communities experience the grace and renewal evident in our own,’ she says of herself and her husband Ashley  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
The art of possibility: Lizl has reinvented old wine bottles as food platters and spoon rests  |  Photo: Lizl Naude
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