A delegation of nine men and women from South Africa was one of the main features of last weekend’s African fashion week in London. The rainbow nation was the only African country that sent an official delegation to the show. They even paid for their flight and accommodation, something most other African countries will not do and will complain that they either don’t have the resources or they can not place a high enough value on selling the image of their country through a fashion show.
Among the delegation was the ambitious 28 year old, Mamsie Mkhwanazi. She started in the fashion industry as a fashion model at a very young age. She has since gone on to model for high profile clients, including one of the wives of South African president Jacob Zuma.
Francis Ngwa caught up with the always smiling Mamsie for a chat.
Q: Can we get a brief introduction of who you are and what your business is about ?
A: My name is Mamsie Mkhwanazi. My business is Afrolicious Designs. I design for a woman who is confident, who knows how to turn out as an African woman but is more modern . My business name means being African but in a more delicious way. My designs are therefor African but they are more westernized. We now know we don’t still have to be wearing what our grandmothers wore. Our garments are therefore stylish, they are African and they are rich in colours and I am inspired by South African and African culture in general
Q: You look a little young to me, are you the youngest in the South African delegation?
A: No, I am not the youngest. I just take good care of myself. I am 28 years old
Q: How Long have you been in the fashion industry?
A: I have been in the industry for the past ten years now but officially I only registered my company seven years ago.
Q: If you have been in the fashion industry for the past ten years, that means you started when you were only 18. How come you started so early?
A: I started off as a model. When I started modelling, it was also about the time the fashion industry was growing rapidly in South Africa. I sketched a lot for other designers. I used to sketch and sell for 10 Rand, 100 Rand. I did that for sometime then somebody told me I needed to go to school to study fashion and actually make money out of this. The person said if I sketch a design and sell it for 100 Rand, the person who buys it will design and sell it for 1000 Rand, that is a lot of profit so why don’t you just go and do it. That is what I did, I just went for it and it is wonderful. This is now my passion and something I love doing.
Q: Most kids who start off as early as you did usually follow the example of their daddy, their mummy, uncle or other relatives. Is that what you did?
A: When I was growing up, my mum had a shop and my dad worked in a horse race track. While he work for the company, there was an event there called Vodacom Durban July , a very big event indeed. My dad used to come home and bring a lot of branded products. I saw ladies wearing all those fancy hats and got inspired. I said I will like to go to the races and look like any of the ladies or design something. My dad used to run another business and my mum worked in a shop, she was a dress maker. When I saw my parents being in business and making money for themselves, I told myself when I grow up, I will want to work for myself. I did not want to get hired to work for others and I have never been hired by anyone.
Q: So did your mum and dad provide you with your initial capital?
A: It was funny. They didn’t give me cash but my dad gave me a small sewing machine. That is how I started. I made a profit of 200 Rand which is about $2 in the first business venture I did. That is how I basically started. I never had a loan anywhere either from the government or from the bank. I started designing a lot of denim skirts. I had a friend who helped me initially and the skirts sold out very quickly. I used to sell each for about 50 Rand. They were really cheap, we sold quickly, made a lot of profit and then bought industrial machines and the money started coming in. I then hired many people . So the best my parents did for me then is that they gave me the necessary education. They told me I had to make it happen on my own. However, whenever I got stuck, I ran back to them and complained which is when they would give me some money and help out in other ways.
Q: Ten years in the design business in South Africa, what will you say are some of the big clients you have had?
A: I have designed cloths for the President’s wife, the first Lady Mantuli Zuma.
Q: You mean one of the first ladies?
A: (she smiles) Yes, one of the first ladies. I have done designs for video shoots for some well known South African musicians including the daughter of reggae star Lucky Dube called Nkulee Dube and some famous radio and TV presenters. I have attended design shows in Mauritius, Germany, and now I am in London. I have also won a couple of fashion awards.
Q: So you must have a big bank balance?
A: My business is growing. I cannot exactly say I have a big bank balance . I am still on the way, I am still growing. I will want to have a boutique in Paris, one in New York and another here in London.
Q: For a 28 year old girl, that is very ambitious
A: Nothing is impossible. I believe in God and I know he is going to make it happen.
Q: What are you doing practically to make sure you become an internationally acclaimed designer?
A: It takes a lot of hard work and lots and lots of research because I have seen that the styles that prevail in each of these cities are totally different. You need to research to know your market so you can provide just the designs that suit that particular market.
Q: The average dressed South African man, what should he be wearing?
A: For a man, I think you need to wear a nice pair of formal shoes, your denim (any jean) a white shirt and black belt , a jacket on-top. That is exquiste, it is classic and timeless.
Q: And a woman?
A: I design for an elegant woman, the type of woman who is very confident and proud of herself, a type of career woman. The woman should wear her high heels, pencil skirt (tight fitting) a blouse and a top which is waist length.
Q: As a young entrepreneur yourself, what advice will you give to other young Africans who will also want to get into business like you did at the tender age of 18?
A: Find your interest, find out what you are passionate about, something you love. When you get something you love, you don’t feel that you are working and then you make sure you get paid for doing that. The most important thing is that you do something that is different and distinguishes you from the crowd. If possible, go to school and try the your best to begin something. I always say that whenever God calls you, he will provide. I now find myself in London, I didn’t have money to fly here, pay for the type of hotel I am now sleeping in and do the things I am doing now. Where there is a will, there is a way.