Kwena Baloyi hair photography series titled “Afrikan Krowns”

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Kwena Baloyi . Picture by Trevor Stuurman

For a long time the controversial issue of black women’s hair has been debated on mainstream media. Even though arguments continue as to whether it is correct or not to have relaxed hair and wear weaves and wigs, I am excited to see a shift in the narrative. The internet and social media are at the forefront in driving the story of “my hair, my crown”. I spoke to fashion stylist Kwena Baloyi, whose Instagram photography series of beautiful hairstyles celebrating black hair caught my eye.

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Kween Kwena. Picture by Nonzunzo Gxekwa 

Tell us about yourself? My friends and industry peers fondly call me “Kween Kwena”. I’m a vivacious, high-spirited and fun person (or so I’m told). I’m from Moletjie Ga-Makibelo in Limpopo. I’m a professional, on-demand TV, magazine and personal stylist. I’m also a fashion adventurist, who explores different clothes to come up with unique styles. I consider myself a fashion therapist because I help people find their fashion identity. I’m low-key obsessed with hair too.

Tell us about your interest in hair? Like every young woman I have come a long way with my hair.

Most of us, as black women, have had a contentious relationship with the kink in our coily hair and it’s been influenced by what society tells us is “acceptable”

I’ve been through that phase where my hair needed to be straight because I thought that was “appropriate”. My natural hair was called “untidy” or was not appreciated by those around me, so I thought it would be better to straighten or shave it. The older I got, the more I appreciated what my hair meant to me and what it represented to me as a woman in a society with so many negative connotations about African people’s hair. Now I wear my hair how I like because it’s an extension of who I am. It expresses my personality more than any item of clothing could.

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What inspired your social media hair photo series? Being a stylist affords me the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country and to meet many different characters. Each person I have met has always had an interesting aspect of their hair. Some stand out for being unique, while some simply intrigue me because they choose to be “regular” for the sake of fitting in. Experiencing this variety of people sparked the notion of how people relate to their “crown” – which is what your hair is essentially. You can choose to have it bold and in your face, or like other hairstyles considered “generic” or “normal”.

 

I’ve also been attracted to how different tribes around the continent wear their hair – particularly in West Africa.

There is a lot of documentation by history scholars and international artists about black people and their hair. The natives of Ugogo, whose hair traditions are exceptional, are one of a few. There are also the Fante women of Elmina (Edina) in Ghana, who had beautiful thick hair and their hairstyles were always so intricate and crafted to perfection. In fact, my current coiffure hairstyle is inspired by women in West Africa. The hairstyle was later made popular by our beloved mama Miriam Makeba. South Africa also has threading and plaiting techniques that are unique and allow us to express our personalities.

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Who is responsible for creating the beautiful hairstyles? My go-to stylist is Ncumisa “Mimi” Duma. She’s a talented hair magician and understands the importance of treating natural hair with care. Can you believe my hair has not seen a hair dryer or endured any artificial heat since I started growing it? It’s the healthiest my natural hair has been in ages!

Does your series have a title? Yes. It’s called “Afrikan Krowns”. We are each Afrikan and each have a Krown. Your Krown is an extension of who you are and an expression of your personality/character. The series looks at how each person chooses to wear their Krown with pride.

 

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Can you tell us what triggered your hair interest? This will sound so clichéd, but do you know the song I am not my hair, by India Arie? It’s always been one of my favourites jams, but it wasn’t until years after I heard it that I began to understand what she was really saying. Often as young girls we sing along to a song without really understanding what its purpose or message is. The way India describes her “hair story” in the first verse is how my hair chronicles kinda went. You start with whatever hair your parents decide you need to have. Then you become a little girl who does certain hairstyles because that’s what the school deems acceptable. From there you become a teenager, get influenced by pop culture and base your hairstyles on what’s “trending”. Then you become an adult and still get peer pressured into doing what your circle finds palatable. Eventually, your hair starts to fall out because you’ve either put way too many chemicals in it or braided it for too long or sewn on too many weaves.

How do you see natural hair empowering women? For me it says you’re slowly, but surely, getting to a point where society’s standards of beauty don’t define who you are. You no longer feel forced to relax your hair or wear a weave just because the expectation to have straight hair weighs you down.

You are ready to celebrate your hair and turn it into whichever shape of krown you desire because it’s an extension of who you are, but by no means defines who you are. In many ways, I hope black women feel free to be whoever they choose to be through their krowns.

Any last words? Women need to understand that the type of hair they choose to wear is not linked to who they are or who other people assume them to be. Whether you’re into braids, weave, wigs, fades, cheese kop, dreadlocks, afro, or anything else you find appealing, remember your hair is your krown.

No one can dictate what it should look like nor what it should mean to you. What matters is that you love it, nurture it and make the most of it.

 

*Connect with Kwena on Instagram: @kwenasays

Connect with me on Instagram @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en and find more of my work here: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style

This piece was first published in the Top of The Times on June 9 2017

What drives a designer?

Unknown UnionPicture: Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

When it comes to clothing brands, sometimes all it takes is a clean and distinct design aesthetic that will set you apart from the saturated market. Streetwear brand Unknown Union (UU) is one of a few South African labels which have managed to stand out with its distinct tracksuits and separates like T-shirts, caps, socks and jackets

I get to know the founder of the brand, Jason Storey.

Tell us a bit about yourself. I wasn’t always a designer. I actually spent my early career as an in-house corporate attorney in New York, working around the clock on deal after deal. But I always had a passion for expression outside the field of law. I grew up surrounded by the study of art (my father was an art dealer).

Tell us about starting your label.Unknown Union was born from that passion, but it’s vision has changed significantly since its origins. My family and I have been travelling to South Africa since I was much younger and it is through that experience that I developed a deep affinity for the people, places and cultures here. UU originally was originally founded in 2010 and at that time we primarily imported brands from outside of South Africa, such as Obey, Levi’s Vintage, Pendleton, and Warriors of Radness.

We also were the first to officially introduce Top Shop to the African Market through our exclusive pop up shop. Around 2011, we began developing our in-house clothing brand, UU, which was inspired by local art and culture, and it didn’t take long before this became the primary focus of our shop. Today, you can find our range at our newest location in Cape Town CBD (44 Bloem Street), where our garments celebrate the rich cultural history of Lesotho and South Africa and several new design projects that touch Angola, Congo and Kenya.

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Model, Sanele Xaba is the face of UU. Picture: Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

What’s it like being in the fashion industry? The fashion industry is fun, but challenging.

From the outside the industry can easily appear to be sexy and glamorous, but people don’t always see how much work and effort goes into the creation of each garment. From design to production it takes a team working meticulously around the clock to produce something worth buying.

 

How would you describe your brand? We believe that there is something that binds every person on this planet together. There is no name for that thing. There is no way to smell it, taste it, feel it, see it, etc. But we all intrinsically recognise that it exists. That’s one of the meanings behind our name, Unknown Union.

How difficult is it to remain original when streetwear brands seem to emerge daily nowadays? If you are pinning your originality on the uniqueness of your design, then few designers can meet that standard because almost every design you could think of to drape the human body has already been thought of or created.

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Is it important for the brand to have the clothing worn by celebrities? While we are thankful many celebrities have taken an interest in our brand, our clothing is designed for everyone .

How have you seen the role of social media develop for you as a brand?

Social has media has become more of a focus for the brand over the last year. Until recently, word of mouth and print were our primary marketing vehicles.

 

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What’s next for Unknown Union? Our UU family can expect to see new and innovative capsule collections from upcoming collaborations with local and international artists. Everyone is invited to come through our flagship Cape Town shop for the launch of our next exhibit: Fashion Art.

Connect with Unknown Union on Instagram @unknownunion https://www.instagram.com/unknownunion/

Connect with me on Instagram @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en  

Find more of my work here: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style

This piece was first published in The Mercury on June 9 2017. 

Some of the SA Fashion Week S/S17 Highlights

Woolworths Style by SAThe Woolworths StyleBySA showcase by designers  Rich Mnisi, Thebe Magugu, AKJP, Pichulik, Maria McCloy, Sol Sol, Selfi and Young&Lazy. Pic by Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

The SA Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2017 showcase wrapped up at Johannesburg’s Hyde Park Corner Shopping Centre yesterday bringing together the fashion elite.

A crowd of buyers, bloggers, designers and photographers assembled for five days of runway shows featuring ladies wear and men’s wear.

The event also featured a trade show and pop-up stores wing where curated displays were on show for guests to browse and purchase the latest collections.

Guests participated in informative talks with selected designers who shared their expertise with aspiring fashion designers.

There were more highlights than lows which is refreshing to witness as younger designers put out well designed garments that can easily compete on international runways. The visiting designers from Norway and China brought in much-needed inspiration.

Here are some highlights:

* Woolworths launched its 2017 StyleBySA seasonal campaign, featuring a capsule collection of eight local designers who are making waves in the industry. The capsule collection features designs by Rich Mnisi, Thebe Magugu, AKJP, Pichulik, Maria McCloy, Sol Sol, Selfi and Young&Lazy. From modern streetwear to footwear and accessoriesinspired by our continent, the collaboration received raving reviews.In a first for SAFW, the collection was available online straight from the runway.

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* Four South African designers competed for a opportunity of a lifetime. The prize of a travel seminar to Berlin Fashion Week courtesy of Lufthansa German Airlines. Designer Sheila-Madge won with her presentation of art decor designs decorated with florals and embellishments. Also the highlight of the night included the Durban University of Technology (DUT) X showcase where students were given the platform to showcase their spring and summer collections.

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* Chu Yan, one of China’s top 10 designers, of Chinese clothing brand CHUYAN presented a beautifully crafted collecting titled “A date with a thousand years” in collaboration with bespoke jewellery brand “Impilo”. The meticulously made and presented collection in shades of burnt orange and green consisted of ready-to-wear garments and tailor-made costume that left me breathless.

 

Rain ware by DUT student Nishthi Sewnath

* For more runway shows and designer info visit: http://www.safashionweek.co.za http://www.safashionweek.co.za/category/designers/nishthi-sewnath/collections-nishthi-sewnath/?post=32419

Instagram: @safashionweek.

Habits recently exhibited at Pure London

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Habits recently exhibited at Pure London, the UK’s favourite fashion-buying event, where they showcased their locally produced Travel Collection. Jenny chats to us about the journey and her Pure London showcase.

Habits has been around for a while, surviving these days of fast fashion and cheap imports, what has contributed to your longevity? From small beginnings when I started with only one person working with me, I have increased my staff complement to numerous sales assistants, PAs, managing directors and an online team.

The first lesson that gets drummed into their heads is service, service, service. Before Habits I had been appalled by bad customer relations, so my top priority has always been that personal service is paramount. I feel this is a dying art in store but also online.

 

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My biggest asset is my team who provide the personal service that sets us apart. This extends to having a huge comfy sofa for bored husbands, with plenty of chilled De Grendel wine and the latest magazines on hand.

Many of my staff have been with me for a long time which allows them to build relationships and trust with our clients.

Tell us a little about the collection you showcased at Pure London? It was a difficult collection to do since I was sitting in the sweltering 33º heat of Cape Town while I was designing the AW18 range for a European winter.

We have shown at Pure London once before, when we went as part of the South African delegation with the KZN Fashion Council, exhibiting our best-selling Travel Range. Made from non-crease jersey Lycra, it rolls up in a ball, is non-crease and makes packing so simple – I knew it was a good seller, summer or winter.

Fortunately, I suddenly had a really good feel for velvet, and not just my favourite colours of black, grey and navy, but beautiful jewel tones – we all need a bit of cheering up.

I know about harsh European winters, and for a huge fan of layering, these washable velvet pieces are as perfect for African winters as they are for the English ones.

I’ve included a sort of Diane Keaton/ Annie Hall masculine three-piece suit complete with waistcoat – it’s a masculine look but hasn’t steered me away from the long, full-flowing opera coat, which is not just an easy piece to wear but it suits everybody.

This year we took a huge leap of faith and booked a stand at Pure London on our own – the only South African women’s wear label exhibiting. I have a factory of 25 people to keep in jobs in a challenging economic climate, and to be honest, it’s difficult to keep going. The only way I could see that I could keep a full-blown factory running was to dive in at the deep end, take a chance and put my money where my mouth was.

It’s frightening, but I have learnt you have to take risks in order to grow in a sustainable way.

It takes a lot of hard work but we have huge faith in our team, who exceeded our expectations, and we’re really proud of our results.

Our customer base has grown and we’ve committed to exhibiting at the next Pure London show in July. We’re proud to be flying the flag for South Africa at the show with our “proudly made in Cape Town” range, and visitors loved our stand, complete with a beaded rhino all the way from Cape Town. Local is lekker!

 

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Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection? Absolutely not! I normally leave it late and have to panic through the last few weeks of delivering a collection, but I think I work best under pressure.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned since you started Habits? The biggest lesson is not to stand still. I went from a one-man band in 1986 to the next step of buying a building in Claremont, to expanding my team, to having my first Joburg Trunk Show 22 years ago, to opening a factory, to launching South Africa’s first online fashion store in 2002. The brand has to keep reinventing itself.

What advice would you give to young designers? Attach yourself to a known designer and learn as much as you can.

Be prepared to put in the hours and get paid very little. If you start your own business, be prepared that you will not make money in the first two years.

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How important is Fashion Week for you? Showing off is part of the business and I can’t stress how important it is showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Cape Town (MBFWCT). It’s expensive, but when you think about the organisers African Fashion International put in, it’s a drop in the ocean. In fact, when I started out, I used to share shows with other designers to save money.

To demonstrate how important it is, in the weeks following MBFWCT, our figures go up and it’s not just our regular customers, but a lot of new clients. Fashion Week is a platform not just to show what sells, but to give you the opportunity to really extend what you do in real life, go a bit over the top and have some fun.

Without giving too much away, our theme for this year’s Fashion Week this month is “It’s complicated”, but that’s all I’m saying.

How would you describe the Habits woman? We aspire to having customers from aged 18 to 80. Our clients are busy women on the move, especially our online customers, who trust the brand. We have women who may be insecure with clothes and they appreciate that we don’t just sell frocks – our staff are trained to give honest advice on anything from packing and colours to wardrobe management and styles.

* The Habits Fashion Boutique is in Cavendish Close, Claremont.

Visit Habits at: http://www.habits.co.za/

Twitter: @HabitsFashion

Facebook: HabitsFashion

Instagram: habitsfashion_sa

* The Mercedes Benz Fashion Week will take place from March 23-25 in Camps Bay. Visit: http://africanfashioninternational.com/

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus and The Star on March 10 2017. For more of my work visithttp://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style/fashion

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter: @Nontando58

Lexus SA Menswear Week A/W’17

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Jenevieve Lyons, Collection name: de-frag-mented (undated) picture by  by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

Africa’s only menswear-focused fashion showcase, the fifth edition of the Lexus SA Menswear Week, took place this month at The Palms in Woodstock. I chatted to three designers whose work was among those that stood out, about their collections and inspiration.

Jenevieve Lyons (South Africa)

Collection name: de-frag-mented (undated)

Tell us about the concept behind your collection? The collection was an amalgamation of my two previous collections: Macula Autumn/Winter 2016 and Deferential Spring/Summer 2017.Both these collections carry immense relevance internationally , allowing us to showcase Macula Autumn/Winter 2016 in Helsinki, in Finland, at the end of last year.We felt that a revisit would be pertinent, thus seeing the opportunity for de-frag-mented to arise as a collection.The collection was therefore presented in the manner of an artistic installation showcasing a concise, five-look collection featuring all the campaign models from our previous two collections.They were initially disguised behind a stocking, which was later cut open to reveal their faces, and this was intended to tell a visual parable to intrigue fashion-lovers, compelling them to think, wonder and ponder about the reasoning and also reminisce along with us, all three stories in one.

How important is Fashion Week for you? The mission of our brand is to tell parables through our fashion – to take it so much further than just clothes.As a South African designer uniting to build our industry and African fashion’s identity; and to pull this clichéd identity of “ethnic” and print to a more modernistic view that can be placed next to an international brand and be understood globally.So the importance of realising cultural, social, political and environmental issues within a fashion context to educate and build renewed perspectives on the African fashion industry is imperative.

Where do you go to seek artistic inspiration? I am aware of my surroundings at all times – politically, socially, news-driven, culturally – all in all to be tapped into the zeitgeist every day, at every moment. I find inspiration in organic places.I will experience or witness something or someone that will spark interest, and this interest links up within my fashion forecasting stream.

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Nicholas Coutts  picture by  by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

 

Nicholas Coutts (South Africa)

Tell us about your A/W17 collection you presented at the Lexus SA Menswear Week? For this collection, I drew inspiration from South Africa’s diverse culture combined with a strong 1970s influence.I aimed to create fresh and dynamic garments that the contemporary man can wear while making a subtle impact.There are glimpses of metallic touches of texture running through the collection. The colours give a warm and happy atmosphere, and sophisticated tailoring.

My collaboration with House of Grace design (macrame bags) and milliner Crystal Birsch for the hats added a vibrant and innovative mood which energised the collection.Styling for the collection was by Peter Georgiades. He brought a fresh approach to the styling and another point of view to the collection.It was important for me to collaborate this season to empower both myself and those that I collaborated with.

What were the first steps you took in the fashion world? My interest in fashion was sparked from an early age. I come from a creative family who have been supportive in my career from the beginning.After studying fashion design for three years, I worked learning different aspects of fashion industry before starting my own brand.

What is it like working for yourself and who is your dream client? I work with a pattern maker and a seamtress, and it’s quite lonely sometimes. It’s challenging as I have to do it all, from PR to overseeing garment construction to designing. However, in the end, the final product is very rewarding.

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  Mai Atafo Atalier (Nigeria)

Collection name: Me

Tell us about your Lexus SA Menswear AW’17 showcase? Me is a collection that describes my journey from when I was 19 years to this present day. In my early years, hand-downs from my siblings and shopping second-hands because one couldn’t afford cool new clothes made up my wardrobe.Added to this was my need to stand out by reinventing these pieces through reconstructing or sometime deconstructing them.Hand print by Dricky_ helps tell a literal story (my first fashion collaboration). The base of all this was my love for denim, velvet, corduroy (ridged velvet) suede and camouflage print.

I also used houndstooth (a pattern with notched corners suggestive of a canine tooth) which I consider to be the most technical check pattern, which could be fun and serious at the same time.Tie and dye for character and the obvious knitwear just because it’s Autumn/Winter and Verraomo is amazing as she knits herself.

In the past few years, my love for tuxedos led to a path where I can respect the dress-code and also give it twist, which is subtly visible by the velvet taping on the trousers matching the jacket fabric (velvet) rather than the conventional trouser tapping matching the lapel of the tuxedo jacket.

Not to forget the smoking jacket with our trademark shawl peck lapel (like all the tuxedos in the collection) with houndstooth trousers rather than the traditional tartan checks.

“For once, the collection wasn’t about predicting consumer trends but one that’s truly me and what I love”

The fashion industry is very competitive. What sets your brand apart?As bespoke tailor and fashion designer, what sets me apart is fine tailoring, fit, quality and ability to create garments that incorporate this with edge and fashion forward design, which sets us apart.

This piece was first published in the Cape Times arts and lifestyle supplement Top of The Times on February 17 2017.

See more of my work at : http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style/fashion/menswear-revisited-7804232

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter @Nontando58 

 

Happy Socks has the world at their feet

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With their colourful and quirky designs, it’s no wonder brand Happy Socks is a global phenomenon. Socks are no longer a muted clothing accessory; they have become staple pieces that breathe life into any outfit.

Whether you are dressing for the office, the gym, a night out or the beach, it’s highly likely you will be wearing a pair of socks.

Although most people still prefer traditional socks that come in single colours of white, red, black and green, bright colours and busy patterns are fashionable.

Happy Socks are the leaders in the market at the moment, offering a variety of designs and colours.

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Happy Socks founders Viktor Tell and Mikael Soderlindh

From the beginning, the global founders of the Swedish brand, Viktor Tell and Mikael Soderlindh, wanted to create a brand that would spread and inspire happiness throughout the world. They tell me this when I meet them in Woodstock for our interview.

They were recently in the country to launch their “Local Hero” special edition, their biggest collaboration so far, where they worked with creatives, bloggers and artists from 15 countries to design socks inspired by their work.

Like their product, they are easy-going and their personalities are infectious.

“After eight years in the business, we are now sold in 90 countries worldwide, and with this collaboration, we really wanted to express our gratitude,” says Tell, Happy Socks creative director.

“We enjoy every country that we visit and we see the creative expressions all around, and we wanted to take that into our company, because it is not only based in Stockholm, but we are a global thing,” says Tell.

“We wanted to see what the local creatives could do with our blank canvas of cotton socks. We gave them carte blanche to create whatever they wanted. That is what we have always done with international collaborations;”

“Not only did they want to engage with us because we have a nice product to work with, but we gave a huge opportunity to the local market and brands, and some would have never had the opportunity to be exposed to so many countries,” he says.

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Happy Socks x Falko One 

South African graffiti artist Falko One was the chosen local hero.

Soderlindh and Tell are long-time friends who worked together before starting the business.

“We are a bit of a ying and a yang, which is part of our success. Soderlindh is the driving force of the business, while I am on the creative side.

“We came up with the business because we enjoyed wearing socks and we saw that no one gave love to the accessory no one really focused on it. What was available at the market at the time was mostly cheap socks with poor designs,” says Tell.

 

“We also started the business because we love to travel. We have almost 200 days of travelling a year, so that gives us a lot of inspiration from meeting people from around the world it’s super fun.

“I get inspiration from all over and we try not to follow trends. We see socks as more of a design item than a fashion item,which means that we can go the wrong way and it doesn’t have to be too precise. Our hunch has turned out good so far,” Tell says.

Soderlindh adds: “Tell has a huge ability when it comes to designs and patterns and working with illustrations. I think that the big difference with our product is how we put colour together, and that has been one secret of our success. Our designs always stand out in the socks department. A couple of years back we had booming competitors, but now we beat them when it comes to really strong designs,” he says.

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The brand have now added underwear to their range – colourful briefs for men and women.

“We felt that we wanted to spread happiness and design from our socks, so why not underwear as well? It was a natural development of our brand socks and underwear go well together,” says Tell.

“The name ‘Happy Socks’ is self-explanatory, we want you to be happy when you wear Happy Socks. We want to brighten up your day almost every morning.

“When you put on our underwear and socks, we want the moment to feel good and make you stay with a smile on your face for the rest of your day. Ever since day one we have been met with a smile when we talk about our brand, and that is what we want to keep,” says Tell.

“I am still so impressed when we travel the world and I see a person wearing our socks, it’s really crazy. Whether we are in Tokyo, Cape Town or New York, whenever we see someone walking down the street wearing our brand, it’s a fun and proud moment,” he says.

“Our customer is hard to put in a box,” says Soderlindh.

“This person is either a 25-year-old fashionista, a businessman, it’s a grandma buying presents for her grandkids, it’s a teenager. It’s such a wide variety of people and we would rather say that our target group is a colourful person who loves design,” he says.

Their advice for future entrepreneurs who would like to start a similar business venture?

Tell says: “I would have never been able to start the business alone.

“I think you should find someone to do it with. The great part of our success is that we have been focusing on the same goal but we have done it in two different directions. Find a partner that has another take on what you want to to,” he says.

Soderlindh adds: “Tell and I work with several start-ups today. One step is that you need to fully commit to a start-up. Rule number one, you should not do it on the side. If you want to do something, quit your job, take a loan and start it.

“You need to take a risk for it to be successful because if you don’t take the risk, you are not forcing yourself to succeed,” Soderlindh says.

“And of course you need to make sure that the business idea that you have is going to be profitable business. You don’t start something because you are passionate about it. It helps, being in the business with the right partner.

“South Africa is a very colourful country and we think that is why Happy Socks is relatively successful here.

“We’re not going to tell anyone what colour or design to wear you need to find your own way of wearing our socks in the designs that catches your eye,” Soderlindh adds.

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on January 24 2017. 

Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en

And visit http://www.IOL.co.za  thttp://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style to check out more of my work. 

Reflecting the times, refreshing fashion

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Fashion designer Rich Mnisi is one of South Africa’s celebrated talents in the fashion industry. Launching his brand “Oath” soon after being announced as one of the winners of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg AFI Fastrack in 2014, Mnisi may be a newcomer to this competitive industry, but his brand is well-respected – at home, in Africa and overseas. I speak to him about his journey and SS’17 collection.

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What sparked your interest in fashion? My whole family has some sort of interest in fashion, particularly my sister. Watching her prepare to go out was absolutely incredible. She’d take time to do her hair, make-up and style her look, and if she didn’t like something about the way she looked she would just alter the clothing on the spot.

“The proportions and moods I explore come from my mother and the need to push the envelope comes from my sister”

What made you take fashion more seriously and make a career out of it? It was when I learned about Lisof Fashion School and what it had to offer. I never saw fashion as a viable career option, it always felt so glamorous and bizarre. But exploring the business side of it was enlightening.

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How has your work evolved since you started your own label? I can’t be specific as it has been a gradual growth. The brand is gradually growing into its own attitude and style. Does your approach differ when designing menswear compared to womenswear? No, I approach them the same way.Usually something intended for a man ends up on a woman and vice versa.

What is your creative process? Music is at the beginning of it all. I let the music I listen to lead the way – define the proportions, mood and colours. Then link all of that with the inspiration of the collection.

How do influences from outside South Africa find their way into your work? It’s the time I’m in, information is everywhere. My work is conversation driven. All the conversations I have with my friends and myself influence my work.

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What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work? The beauty in blackness. I almost apply a Solange Knowles: for us by us approach.

Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection? Not necessarily, it needs to come naturally. I don’t start a new collection unless I know what I’m trying to say through it.

“The research process comes with the Reflecting the times, topic at hand and they can’t all be tackled the same”

What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company? That I’ll never stop learning. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a very complex industry; you almost need to stop thinking about it too hard to make the best decisions.

“The support for young designers could definitely be better, but it’s also on the young designers to educate themselves and find a means to communicate their ideas”

I’ve also had to learn about the business. Sometimes creative meets corporate and the two need to work together. I still go 60 percent creative and 40 percent corporate, for my sanity.

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How would you describe your design aesthetic? It’s a reflection of time, and it develops as time develops. Do you feel there’s significant interest in young designers? Definitely, I think young designers stripped fashion of its glamour and tackled it in an honest way.

Rich Mnisi profile.JPGDesigner Rich Mnisi

Who inspires you the most in fashion? My peers: Orange Culture, Tzar, Lukhanyo Mdingi, Nicholas Coutts, Jenevieve Lyons, Nao Serati, Thebe Magugu, Selfie, Young & Lazy, Tsepo Tsotetsi, AKEDO. Describe the person you have in mind when you design? A curious mind, a fashion enthusiast, a traveller.

What’s your motto? The philosophy stems from the need to remind people of the importance of expression and not feeling lost in a world of globalisation and trends, but to use this more exposed world as your motivation to live fully.

“It’s about being unapologetic about your stance and knowing that it may never be accepted by many, but as long as you do it well it will translate”

What’s next? Our A/W 17 Collection

● Shop Rich Mnisi’s collection at  Rich Mnisi  or at . Spree

Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram @Nontando58

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus  on November 30 2016