Chit Chat: Lesego Malatsi

2011-09-23 09:37

From dreaming of pretty things in his Soweto home to doing the radio rounds in the UK, fashion designer Lesego Malatsi (33) has certainly come a long way.

The co-founder of Mzanzi Designers Emporium, this alumni of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg is causing a buzz in London after showing his range at last week’s London Fashion Week’s Finest Renaissance official off-site show. Janine-Lee Gordon got him on email in-between interviews and fittings.

Congratulations on ­London Fashion Week! How did it feel?
It went very well and yes, I was nervous at first but relaxed as it progressed.

Tell us about the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.
It’s one of the global leadership initiatives of Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group. It’s a unique launch pad for the enterprising to create successful businesses, and it supports ­aspiring entrepreneurs by offering practical business skills and access to mentors and ­business networks.

How did you get involved?

I had an order that needed some financing, so I went to the banks but they didn’t help me. I spoke to a lady who referred me to someone who was associated with the Branson Centre, and things just took off from there.

You were the only South African to participate in the glamorous London Fashion Week.
Yes, and it meant a lot to me when the invitation came. It meant that someone recognised my work as distinctive and that I could add value to the industry. To be able to showcase on that kind of platform is a huge honour.

Did you ever think you would get to this point?
Honestly, no. In fact, I wanted to be an accountant. And then I was attracted to the glitz and glam, not realising all the hard work that would be involved. I hoped I would be successful ­locally, but as I conquered more challenges I could see myself breaking into ­other territory.

When did you decide to be a fashion designer?

After I matriculated. I did some part-time work at a cosmetics ­company and that’s when I ­realised I had to take up my love for beautiful clothing. I was always told I dressed very well.

Who are your role models?
I have a few. Locally, it’s soccer boss Kaizer Motaung because he comes from a humble background and his success has never gone to his head.

Internationally, it would be Sir Richard Branson because he has achieved so many things that ­others have never dreamed of. He also believes in the empowerment of others and is associated with over 800 businesses.

Where fashion is concerned, ­Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto are my role models because they come from the same background I do and faced the same challenges when ­starting out.

What’s been the most difficult ­hurdle so far?

A few years ago, the biggest challenge was being a black male in the fashion industry because there were so few opportunities.

The second-biggest challenge is unemployment. When you study, you are not trained to be an entrepreneur and develop jobs; you are trained to get absorbed into the workforce.

What inspires your ­designs?
There are so many diverse ­cultures in South Africa. It’s a ­constant inspiration for me.

How does it feel to see people wearing your label?
One of the key things for me is to make beautiful clothes and ­address everyone’s dress sense. Whenever I see people wearing my clothes, I feel honoured because it’s ­another step closer to realising my dreams.

How do you spend your free time?
The only time I’m free is when I’m at church. I spend probably about three times a week in the company of God’s word.

What lessons have you learnt that you can impart to aspiring fashion designers?

Work hard to achieve any goals you set yourself. Always be persistent no matter how tough things might seem because the one ­hurdle might just be more difficult than the next one.

But most ­importantly, never ever listen to anyone who tells you things can’t be done. Anything is possible to those who believe.

What accomplishments are still on your “to do” list?

The biggest wish is to see the poverty gap in South Africa ­reduced. Until it is addressed, we are not going to get anywhere. It’s the right thing to do to provide jobs for others, and that is also why I want to do as much as I can by empowering others through my own work.

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