Two minutes with entreprenuer Maria MCcloy

By Molife Kumona
07 April 2017

My mission is about Africans always having pride and love for ourselves - Maria Mccloy

Entrepreneur Maria MCcloy was recently named as one of the six designers to collaborate with SA Fashion Week and Woolworths, DRUM talks to her about her journey.

Congrats on your SAFW & Woolworths collaboration. What does this mean? What Maria MCcloy stuff will we see at WOOLWORTHS and for how long?

Thank you very much, I’m still amazed, this deal fast forwarded any dreams I had of even launching at South African Fashion Week, wow! I didn’t think it’d come so soon. For years I have been selling at Market On Main every Sunday and on Saturday at Cape Town’s Biscuit Mill, so this is the next level, it’s a big thing and I’m honored.

It’s a very big deal for my brand to now be available at 6 Woolworths stores as part of the #StyleBySA capsule collection. It’s an honour to be in Woolworths sold next to South African designers I admire so much, I want to buy everything by the other seven designers who will be on sale alongside me at Woolworths Sandton City, Mall Of Africa, Gateway, Canal Walk, Menlyn and woolworths website.

How did your business start? What inspired you?

Dzino, Kutloano Skosana and I used to run a media company called Black Rage Productions, our focus was on SA urban culture on our site, our record label Outrageous Records and our TV shows Bassiq, Street Journal and Noted as well as the work we did for Channel O and Trace….I was home for the holidays in 2007, I was walking round the Maseru Market area, and I walked past a stall where the most amazing wire earrings were on sale, wire earrings are sold all over town and at the border post, and outside the iconic craft shop Basotho Hat, but these ones made by Ntate David Makoae were special, I said please make them bigger for me, he said “ok ausi but I think your ears will fall off” He made them, I came to Jo’burg and everyone was begging to buy them from me, I started stocking at Stoned Cherrie and was in their SA Fashion Week Collection as well as in Marianne Fasslers show at one SA Fashion Week and all the stylish women in town coveted them, an early major supporter was Lira who wore them in all her publicity pictures.

I had been known as a journalist and TV producer and now, very organically, because of my love of bold accessories and the perfect creator found in Maseru who I would send beads to  work with, I was getting known for something else!

I started selling once a month at a craft market  in Newtown and then a vintage market in Greenside every month as id added vintage clothes and bags to my collection, then from 2011 every Sunday at Maboneng where you’ll find me now selling my African print shoes, clutches, necklaces and wire earrings of course.

The earrings propelled me into the fashion world, and this went further when in 2011 whilst I was working at Viacom Africa in their publicity team on MTV, MTV Base, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, I did publicity on a Congolese movie called Viva Riva, I decided to make an African print clutch as a media gift, and then there you had it my african  print clutches were born and I started selling them – at that point no one was really doing the print thing in the way it’s o fashionable now, I was certainly the first at market on main, in 2012 I carried the idea through into shoes, I'd buy low cost shoes and cloth and have a guy cover them, it’s joining the show game that really got me recognised, I was on CNN and all SA media and I did a Tedx Johannesburg talk, after leaving Viacom in 2014 to concentrate on my brand, I found two factories in Jozi and Durban that enabled me to make the high quality shoe I now have.

Your work has a huge emphasis on proudly African. What entailed that decision for you?

It was never something I thought of doing, it’s simply who I am. I think it’s because of the upbringing parents gave me, he is English and she is Mosotho, I was born in England then we lived in Nigeria, Sudan, Mozambique and Lesotho before I came to boarding school in South Africa when I was 12. I think the cultures of all those places inspired and influenced my aestheti, african print was used by my mother to carry me on her back.

This continent is amazingly inspiring, I don’t see why any other place would inspire or why one should look outside when we have millions of years of heritage to draw upon – we are blessed to have amazing culture and be in touch with global trends, we can create fantastic stuff out of this mix. Wherever you put your finger on the map of this continent there is amazing music, design, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation and such a variety too.

There is a well of historical traditions and tales that will never dry up.  I'd love to travel up and down and fro side to side sourcing jewels and cloth and partying and collaborating, how magnificent that would be. For now I observe images and books and social media and make items inspired by our beautiful continent. One day I hope my brand is stocked across Africa and The World.

It makes me sad when I hear south Africans say “oh your necklaces bags and shoes are great for a traditional wedding”, that is the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, that we see it  as normal to wear western attire and reserve anything african for special occasions, that’s why it’s SO GREAT I’m available in woolworths, my mission is about us always having pride and love for ourselves.

What are the five highlights of your business?

Starting in 2007 when I first began collaborating with David Makoae on the earrings that started me off in the fashion world

Featuring on CNN Inside Africa

Doing a TedX Johannesburg talk in 2013

Launching SA Fashion Week 2017 with #StyleBySA

Being available in 6 Woolworths stores

What lessons have you learned about business that has made you successful and also survive where most entrepreneurs don't?

Consistency. You can't treat your own business like a hobby. You have to be at every market through thick and thin. You have to spend all you make on creating new stock.

You have to communicate to the  world what you are doing, there is no excuse not to now that there is all this wonderful social media. If you are doing amazing things and nobody knows what the point. Your friends and family will be your first network and supporters, start selling to them they will have your back from when you have nothing til you hit the big time.

Cultivate a great network. Be available to people who love your product, communicate with them – I always say my customers are my muses they inspire my work.

Ask for advice, I ask my friends like Marianne Fassler and Felipe Mazibuko and Thula Sindi for advice always, they know so much more than me.

Acknowledge your weak spots and past mistakes that made you fail so you can do better next time round, I’m learning so much about pricing and sales from my agent at The Fashion Agent , my tendency is to run away from numbers and excel documents, but I know I need to embrace those things if I’m to grow.

What's your dream for your business?

To be able to create a wide variety of African inspired shoes, bags and jewels on this continent and sell them throughout The World.

Find Love!