Material girl

Palesa means flower, in Sesotho. It is apt then that Palesa Mokubung, designer of clothing label Mantsho, is launching her range on customised locally designed and produced fabric that blends the iconography of her name and her brand, melded into the shape of a flower.

Showing at the coming Sanlam South Africa Fashion Week: Spring Summer Collection, Mokubung has, in collaboration with an unlikely source, created a unique material for the heart of her collection.

But as she is quick to point out her work this time has been thanks to a spirit of collaboration that she believes the fashion industry needs more of.

Tie Weavers South Africa, best known for its ties, scarves and shirt fabrics, is the clothing and textile manufacturer that is backing Mokubung in the development of her fabric design.

Graham Spiro, chief executive of Tie Weavers SA, says he was impressed with Mokubung’s drive and creativity when she approached him early this year.

“She worked with our design department to develop the fabric,” says Spiro. “She conceptualised the look and feel, it’s completely her.”

Spiro, a critic of South Africa’s textile industry, argues that its disintegration has left young designers with a slim choice of fabrics for their designs.

He says designers are forced to “buy off-the-shelf” as good-quality locally made fabric is hard to find or textile manufacturers cannot produce the small runs required.

“Often they have nowhere to go in terms of producing the kinds of garments that they want to design,” he says, “and they have no textile choice.”

Tie Weavers SA trades in “custom designs and small runs”, says Spiro. He believes the company was ideally placed to assist Mokubung.

And being a passionate believer in South African fashion, Spiro thought getting behind an up-and-coming local designer was the right thing to do.

The company also produced fabrics for fellow South African label Stoned Cherry.

Mokubung is pleased with the sponsorship she is receiving from Tie Weavers, who are donating the fabric for her show.

Fabric is expensive, she says. It swallows a large portion of capital and if a designer is not careful she ends up buying cheap fabric to put on a show and so “compromises a collection”, she says.

Creating her own fabric has been wonderful for Mokubung.

“The beautiful thing about it is [Spiro] took me through a course to make the fabric,” she says. “From the design, to getting it on to the looms. I have never been so inside my range!”

Mokubung believes that in return she offers Tie Weavers her creativity and gives it exposure in a different realm to its usual market.

Mokubung would like to see more of this “culture of collaboration”.

“People don’t know what they need until they are exposed to it,” she says. “We need to knock on one another’s doors and find out what we need from one another.”

Mokubung, who also sings in Sesotho band Ntjapedi, likens it to the music industry.

“Musicians collaborate all the time,” she says. And a similar exchange of knowledge, inspiration and expertise should be seen in local fashion, she says.

But the Tie Weavers SA-Mantsho relationship is not a result of blind luck.

“None of this would have happened if I did not put on my shoes, go out there and ask for help,” she says.
It was not only Tie Weavers that Mokubung approached. She also cast her lot in with the Umsombomvu Youth Fund (UYF), which is sponsoring her stall at the exhibition.

“We are passionate about driven, hard-working young people,” says head of communications at UYF Gugu Mjadu. “[Palesa’s] work ethic and involvement in the daily operations of creating the label demonstrates her commitment to seeing it succeed. Her energy is contagious.”

The UYF offered Mokubung assistance with her business, similar to the assistance it has offered other brands Stoned Cherrie and Sun Goddess.

“Fashion is proving to be a niche market for young and female entrepreneurs to get into,” says Mjadu. “It is profitable in both rural and urban areas. We want to contribute to the growth of this industry.”

The organisation finances fashion entrepreneurs with loans from R1 000 to R10-million, as well as development services such as branding and business administration.

Mokubung is bent on harnessing the support and channelling it into a sound, strong business.

She will showcase her collection as part of the Five Roses collections, with Hermana Rush and Miss Scarlet.

Following SSAFW, Mokubung will travel to the Helexpo Fashion Forward International Fair in Thessaloniki, Greece, on September 9.