Palesa Mokubung is the first African fashion designer to collaborate with retail giant, H&M. She shares how she achieved this incredible feat for her clothing label, Mantsho. By Kwanele Mathebula Picture supplied
My mother noticed my creative spirit and nurtured it from a young age. She encouraged me to express myself through creating things such as my own cards for special days and holidays. Her support made it easy to pursue a career in the arts after completing high school. In 2000, at her urging, I applied to study fashion design at Vanderbijlpark Technical College. Towards the end of that year, I began looking for work just to make extra cash. One day, I left college during lunch break and headed home. I changed into a skirt and t-shirt that I had made, and headed to Rosebank to look for a job. While there, I walked into Nkhensani Nkosi’s then store, Stoned Cherrie. She interviewed me on the spot and asked about my skirt. Coincidentally, she owned the same material I had used. She then asked me to make her the same skirt with her material. I made the skirt and was hired by the end of the week.
Working in fashion encouraged me to start my business. In 2001, I transferred to Parktown College because it was close to work. I split my time between work and school until I was promoted from sales assistant to designer a few months later. I spent the next three years learning about the fashion industry at Stoned Cherrie. But, I started to feel burnt out, and wanted a new challenge. So, I quit my job and with my mother’s help, started looking for competitions that I could enter. My mother found SABC 1’s youth talent competition show, S’camto Groundbreakers. I entered and won the fashion design category. I got to travel to places such as New York and India, where I met other young fashion designers. Seeing them pursue their dreams encouraged me to do the same. So, I launched Mantsho.
I started running Mantsho in 2004. I ran my business for a year before officially registering it because I was uncertain about where it was going. I soon realised that this was because I lacked the technical and business skills to run it. I was also financing it out of my own pocket. This impacted my creativity because I was constantly stressed about keeping it operational and couldn’t focus on designing. I then realised that if I wanted Mantsho to grow, I had to go back to school. In 2011, I registered to study design at the Design School of South Africa, and completed my Bachelor of Arts in Design degree in 2013.
Going back to school helped me improve my business. School provided me with a better understanding of packaging, textiles and business. In my free time, I read business articles that educated me on how to run the business. Eventually, I opened my flagship store at 27 Boxes in Melville in 2016. This set the stage for me to collaborate with other businesses. In 2018, I got a call from H&M’s team about a possible collaboration. I then met with their local and international team at my studio and store. A few weeks later, they called to tell me that they wanted to collaborate on a 14-item collection that would be available locally and internationally. This was affirming for me because of the hard work that I’ve put into the business. The collection hits stores on 15 August 2019, in 25 stores nationwide. It will also be available in 61 stores globally which is huge for me and my business, the fashion industry and the continent.