Slungile Mokoena 35, was the leader of the South African delegation that attended last weekend’s African fashion Week London.
She has been designing for many years after she began as a dress maker.
Unlike most designers, she likes dressing her clients with complete matching dresses from head gear to the shoes they wear.
Like all fashion designers, she is particular about the way people she mixes with dress up.
Francis Ngwa caught up with her for a brief Chat while she was in London.
Q Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Slungile Mokoena and my brand is called Sluubysluvin designs. Sluu is part of my name. Most of my friends call me like that so I decided to use it as part of my brand name.
Q Why did you decide to be a designer?
I love fashion. I have a lot of passion for fashion and I felt that to be an accomplished designer, I needed to go to fashion school so that I could understand fashion well. I needed to understand how the industry works, the garments, the styles how people make and create designs everyday
Q How will you describe South African designs to someone who has never heard anything about it?
South African designs to me are a complete work of arts, especially when it comes to creativity even though most of the time we have challenges with fabrics because we don’t really have a wide choice when it comes to exclusive fabrics. I mean as compared to western fabric for evening wear. But as far as traditional fabrics are concerned, we do have our locally manufactured traditional fabrics which we can get locally so it makes things easy for us.
Q How different are South African designs and fabrics from those of other Southern African countries like Botswana and Namibia for example?
It is difficult to differentiate them because most are similar. The major difference might be the colour combination because some South African designers like a lot of bright colours, but some don’t like bright colours so it depends. Another difference might be the design on the fabrics themselves, the artwork on the fabrics.
Q Do you use a lot of fabrics from other countries in your designs?
Yes we do. I get a lot of fabrics from Nigeria and I also get some from Zimbabwe because I travel there a lot. I should say here that even some of the fabrics I get from Zimbabwe are also imported from abroad. I then mix these foreign fabrics with our locally made fabrics so I can come up with some exclusive designs.
Q You have been in the fashion industry for the past seven years, will you describe yourself as a successful fashion designer?
Yes of course. I always go for what I want. I just get the fabrics that I want, do the designs that I want on them and my clients love that.
Q You don’t only design clothing, you also design handicrafts. Can you talk a bit about that?
Whenever I design an outfit, I also design accessories to go with it. The accessories I am talking about here include jewelry like braces, earrings and necklaces. I also make belts to go with the garments depending on the type of design I make. I can also add bags to that and sometimes go as far as adding a creative touch to shoes too. We don’t really manufacture shoes but we sometimes have to add a creative touch to them. This is all to make sure everything that a person wears fits well. Most of the bracelets I have here are Zulu traditional bracelets. You will see they are made of beads. These ones you see here costs £35 because it takes a lot of time to make them. They range in prices though. We buy originally beads and accessories and then assemble them as we want.
Q This makes you unique in a way because you design garments and accessories. Some designers don’t do that.
Most other designers buy the accessories. For me, it makes things easy because If I am designing a garment, I can actually add the beads to the actual garment itself so it compliments everything.
Q So if Yvonne Chake Chaka comes to you to have a garment done, you will want to do everything from the headgear to the necklace, the garment and shoes?
Yes I can do
Q Have you done that before?
A yes of course, I have done that a lot
Q That will make you stand out as a designer in South Africa?
Yes because my brand is not only about the outfit. It is about the inner person within the person who will be wearing the garment. I don’t design according to what I feel will be suitable for you. Whenever I want to design an exclusive garment with a client, I sit down with them, the first question I ask them is how do you want to feel once you put on my garment?
Q If a client says they want to feel sad because they will be attending a funeral and need you to design a dress for the occasion?
If you want to feel sad, I will say that I know it is a funeral but I will make a garment or an outfit that will cheer you up. That will be able to revive your spirit but at the end o the day, you need to tell me what you want the colour combination etc. I will however advice you as a designer that this fabric is not suitable or is suitable for this occasion. At the end of the day, the client is king and their final decision stands.
Q A man tells you he has just met a new date and he wants to impress her, how will you dress him?
I will ask the man how the girl looks like, he has to get information about the date. The man needs to do his research about what she likes so I can know how to design to make him impress her. Let me tell you one funny story here. A friend of mine told me she met a new guy, and I think the guy thought he was really dressed to kill when he went to meet her at the airport. When he showed up, she did not like the way he was dressed and guess what, the romance died like that. So if you need an outfit to impress a lady, you need to get someone who knows the lady well to tell you how she likes her man to dress. You might want to impress but end up putting her off.
Q I need to meet the president. How will you dress me up?
You need to be formal, well presented don’t wear jeans, you need to look like a well turned out man. I will design an outfit to suit that occasion. You need to look like an honourable
Q Are you married?
Q So are you very choosy when you want a boyfriend? He must meet your dressing expectations?
Whenever I want to go out with someone, the first question I ask is what kind of place we are going to. If we are going to a restaurant, I need to dress up accordingly, if we are going to a night club, the same thing. I will then to ask him what he will be wearing. He cannot come dressed in jeans and I wear an evening dress. That is how I make sure me and my partner need to harmonize.
Q Has the way a guy dress been causing you problems in your relationships?
No. That is because I am upfront. I need to be clear each time. If we are going to a restaurant, I need to ask him how much that will cost. Not that I am being rude but because I am a business woman, everything I do has a budget. I don’t want a man to go to a restaurant, order an expensive meal and then he cannot afford to pay for it. It makes it easy to be upfront. It does not mean under rating the person. You just want to make sure you are both comfortable, not that I should be enjoying my meal and you are grinding your teeth.
Q That is when the man is paying the bill. Do you pay sometimes?
Yes I do. If I am meeting a client, I usually pay the bill if we are discussing business. I will pay if I invited you to the restaurant. But if you invited me, you pay.
Q South Africa is the only African government that paid for designers to take part in the London fashion week exhibition. Why do you think you were on this delegation?
When it comes to the selection (I was the organizer) our government looks for people who were ready for a show like this. The government is looking for people who are ready and they sponsor different sectors. They look at your company, how long have you been in business and if you are ready to go international. Will you be able to handle the demands of an international market? The government also needs to know that your documentation is in order. That is how they do their selection.
Q It is interesting the South African government is even spending money on an event like this. Most African governments will not
Yes. That is why we are grateful and proud to be South Africans. Our government does a lot for us. They support small businesses so that they can create jobs in the local economy. Nine companies were selected to come to London. More companies applied of course but we had to be rigorous in the selection.