Winning Women: Renaissance fashion guru

2013-04-28 14:00

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Nkhensani Nkosi, creator of the iconic Stoned Cherrie, which now includes upholstery and eyewear, is on the cusp of something bigger, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

It takes the creative eye of an artist, an actress with a flair for the dramatic and a proud African with a burning entrepreneurial zeal to create the kind of dynamic business that Nkhensani Nkosi has with her label Stoned Cherrie.

She reminds me of a Renaissance woman, with her multifaceted skills and layered approach to life, which includes doing hard business with a deeply spiritual overlay.

It was on her trips across our continent, as the host and official spokesperson of M-Net’s Face of Africa in 1995, that Nkosi identified a gap in the market “for the urban energy and spirit of resilience that sparks there”.

She says: “I saw goldsmiths and wire artists on the side of the road and women doing the most intricate beading. I was witnessing the most profound sense of creativity.”

Nkosi decided to become part of this and opened a shop with a difference in Rosebank, Joburg, in 2000, selling her first range of outfits, inspired by the 1950s and Sophiatown.

In so doing, she moved South Africa “into different phases of contemporary urban with a new aesthetic”.

In a country not long freed from the yoke of apartheid and yearning for new forms of sophisticated African expression, her label rocketed

to both national and international acclaim.

Suddenly, rising black stars in the business and artistic firmaments had clothes that proclaimed their individuality and Afrocentricity. The label alone celebrates that.

“‘My cherrie’ is township slang for ‘my girlfriend’ – and out shopping one day I noticed tins of stoned black cherries,” says Nkosi. So, using “a whole lot of creative licence”, she formed a “strong and iconic identity”.

With Nkosi at its helm as creative director and head of the design team, Stoned Cherrie grew into different clothing lines distributed through Woolworths and, later, retailed as Love Movement in 48 Foschini stores across the country.

Today, Stoned Cherrie’s eyewear is sold in about 600 outlets across Africa.

“As part of our vision to weave a new African identity, we have also developed a range of locally woven upholstery fabrics,” says Nkosi, pointing to the sky-blue, dramatically old-fashioned armchairs in her ultramodern, Parkmore studio.

Behind them are chic gold and grey chairs.

She is now also being creative with architects and interior designers, as she works with them on offices and restaurants.

She strokes, hot off the press, tailor-made books that can be turned into family or wedding albums.

She was asked by an international company to design covers.

Nkhensani then leads me to a wedding dress, designed for a South African anthropologist now living in Australia, who did not want a white outfit.

Its varying shades of blue fabric are covered with intricate beading.

“She said it has captured her personality and she could feel it was handmade with love when she slipped it on,” says Nkosi, her voice infused

with happiness.

“People will pay a fortune for something handcrafted, which has taken time and been fashioned with a bit of their soul going into it.

“This is especially so in the times we now live, where life is fast, so much is copied and then churned out,” she says.

The night before, Nkosi had been doing ceramic work on platters and a teapot. She shows me pictures of teacups and vases, which she has painstakingly decorated,

and then shows me a bath, the front of which blazes with one of her large designs.

“I don’t pre-plan my designs, they happen organically as I work and that naturally makes them far more time consuming. But I love it so much.”

And her eyes blaze with the passion she feels for creativity.

She’s working on a range of ceramics that will be sold in the Hyde Park Corner Luminance shop that Destiny magazine editor Khanyi Dhlomo plans to open shortly.

Nkosi faces a conundrum: she knows that “creativity is our brand and ‘manufacturing desire’ is our business”.

Yet, she is continually approached by people wanting to take Stoned Cherrie down many other roads, some of them in manufacturing.

Yet others suggest she franchise her business.

“I am on the cusp of something big, but can’t say anything just yet,” she says.

The little girl who made dolls’ clothes, then graduated from Wits University with a degree in industrial psychology and sociology, before becoming an award-winning actress, and then co-owning Vicious Funk Productions – making corporate videos and TV programmes – has grown into an even more extraordinarily versatile and talented woman.

She also travels the country giving talks for major banks and insurance companies on entrepreneurship and her life experiences, inspiring and motivating her audiences.

She and her husband, Zam Nkosi, have four young children for whom she would like to start hand making clothes “on a sewing machine, as a hobby”?.?.?.?says one of the busiest and most

successful businesswomen in South Africa.

»?If you are a female entrepreneur who needs a springboard to more success, sign up for the fully sponsored Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

Visit www.gibs.co.za/10000women to apply

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