Prime Hustle: Entrepreneur Anisa Mpungwe’s series of fortunate events

2012-06-18 09:56

The garments which style maven Anisa Mpungwe creates are not for the timid girl; an LCA girl is one who, like the label’s owner, embodies confidence and pizzazz.

Her Loin Cloth and Ashes (LCA) label is characterised by dramatic shapes, bold colours, impeccable craftsmanship and the sophisticated finish that can only be achieved by unwavering attention to detail.

“An LCA girl is very confident, sensitive and a go-getter; someone who has a plan for life – an adventurer,” she says.

The muse for her latest collection, ALMA, was her younger sister, who she says embodies these values.

Started in 2008, Mpungwe’s business was literally born from conversations she and her high school friends had.

“Those were child-like dreams,” she says. “I didn’t take it seriously (at the time) I thought I’d go into politics like my father.”

The dream became a reality when due to her artistic flair, schoolmates asked her to design their matric dresses during her final high school year.

She describes those early days as magic.

“I have always been able to draw but when I realised that translating a drawing into life was possible – that was magic for me. It was love at first sight.”

LCA has been materialising since then, in what Mpungwe describes as “a series of fortunate events”.

Notable among these was her winning the Elle New Talent search in 2008.

“I was parked outside the British Embassy, about to hand in my visa application to go back to England and pick strawberries, when Dion Chang called to tell me I was a finalist in the Elle New Talent competition,” she says.

Interpreting the theme of romance, her quirky designs, which she plastered with lips – “putting a smile on fashion” as Elle’s editor at the time said – scooped her the top prize.

Spurred on by the need to prove that she could make a success of her chosen career and frustrated about being in a job she felt under-utilised her experience, as well as Midrand Graduate Institute and London School of Fashion qualifications, Mpungwe set out to bring the magic to life.

Favour was on her side as that very same year she had to create a collection to show at New York Fashion Week within two weeks after fashion show producer Jan Malan called to tell her she would be showing in the fashion capital.

From humble beginnings, it took some time for the reality of what she was achieving to sink in.

“As a black girl living on the African continent you never think ‘I could be on the same runway as Alexander McQueen’; you never connect with (that magnitude of success). What I was achieving only sank in when I was doing an interview with the BBC,” she says.

Having previously shown in Mozambique, shows in Angola and Stockholm followed.

Managing the business side of her label was no easy feat, she admits, saying artists think about “ponies and roses”.

“It’s been tricky. I didn’t know anything about keeping invoices or taking stock of clothes and fabric,” she says.

She was helped with this by a business mentor she was assigned as part of the Sanlam SA Fashion Week business mentorship programme.

Mpungwe also gained retail experience at Mr Price as part of the Elle prize, as well as mentoring by a fashion consultant.

As for the sustainability of the business, she says she thinks about creating clothes that her customers would want, clothes that are recognisable but still have that “something special”.

Incorporating African fabrics, her clothes are distinctive and glamorous.

Having shown at Joburg Fashion Week in February, Mpungwe is now focused on expanding the retail branch she will be launching soon.

“The shop is my big focus. We’re busy creating clothes for retail at the moment.”

Despite having attained success in the short time she’s been in the industry, Mpungwe still has dreams she is adamant will come to pass.

Among these are the goals to appear in a fashion textbook, as well as one day being at the helm of her very own LCA empire.

“Why not get the empire? Why not be the boss lady,” she asks.

 “Dreams are possible, if you’re focused... and I’m very focused,” she says.

For this year, though, she aims to be at Africa Fashion Week in October and host her own fashion show for the first time.

She also mentions that a collaboration with funky headwear brand Babatunde is in the pipeline, as well as one with online retail store 36boutiques.

Her energy is contagious and with never too much time to spare, it’s back to creating the magic of bringing garments to life in her Maboneng District studio and working towards ensuring that the dreams and plans she harbours become a reality.

When business meets fashion: tips for entrepreneurs

Fashion design is becoming increasingly popular as a career option for young people and distinguishing yourself from the crowd can be challenging.

Designers Craig Native of streetwear brand Native and Paledi Segapo of Palse Homme fashion house had the following advice for aspiring label owners:

“Do what you’re good at. Don’t try to be another Armani or D&G. Be you,” said Native.

An error he said upcoming fashion entrepreneurs could make was to fail to implement business support systems from the inception of their businesses.

“You need that boring book clerk stuff... Fashion and business go directly together,” he said.

Segapo stressed cash flow as a major challenge entrepreneurs starting out may face.

He said: “Cash flow is one of the most evident challenges. Fashion designing is an expensive business to embark on, and the costs of purchasing equipment, hiring employees, overheads and sunk costs can easily outstrip cash inflow.”

That said, he added that he saw no major challenges to becoming an entrepreneur, provided one had a sound business plan, vision, and was able to market their brand extensively.

“There are no major barriers to entry in the fashion business, but you have to know the ins and outs of the industry.

(Once you start the label) identify business best practices that will assist in repeating a season’s success.”

Something that might make this difficult, though, was not being able to forecast and sustain supply, which could then also adversely affect demand.

Segapo and Native both emphasised the importance of doing an internship with an established designer.

“It is absolutely mandatory to intern with an established designer. Young designers need to acquire between three to five years of fashion business experience before embarking on launching their solo careers.”

Said Native: “Work in industry for a little while and gain experience and income. Don’t focus only on design departments; work with marketing, buyers and in manufacturing. Be informed of every tier in the industry.”

Networks were also an aspect Segapo said was key. “Establish business relationships with other designers, fashion editors, stylists and key industry leaders. Designers can’t afford to operate in silos.”

Segapo, who completed a dissertation on growth strategies for SA fashion, holds a Master of Business Leadership. He further advised:

» Research the industry, identify your signature and capitalise on it;
» Become best friends with someone who is business savvy, and a publicist; and
» Master the craft of impeccable craftsmanship.

» Prime Hustle is a regular feature on entrepreneurs. Send your suggestions or share your experiences:

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