PMB’s feisty fashionista

2015-11-25 06:23
PHOTO: supplied Priscilla Bhika (middle row, second left) with her family.

PHOTO: supplied Priscilla Bhika (middle row, second left) with her family.

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“I ALWAYS knew that I was meant to educate and empower women to become self-sufficient and independent,” said Priscilla Bhika, Pietermaritzburg’s School of Fashion founder and owner.

Bhika looks back on her 50 years in the fashion industry, and knows she has achieved her goal.

Speaking to Maritzburg Fever, Bhika said she was born with a passion for fashion. She knew she was not meant to go into a conventional job, but rather follow her heart, which was set on fashion.

“My parents never wanted me to do fashion, but I was adamant that I wanted to be a designer. As a compromise, I did social work and did fashion part-time. I ran the school in the afternoon well into the evening, but eventually the school grew so big that something had to give. That is when fashion became my full-time job,” said Bhika.

Born in Johannesburg, her mother’s home town, Bhika moved to Pietermaritzburg after studying and visiting friends and family here.

“I fell in love with Pietermaritzburg, it’s amazing beauty, the streets lined with Jacarandas, the warmth of the people and its sense of community.”

It was here that she met her husband and started her family. She has two daughters, a son and four granddaughters.

Bhika opened the first multiracial fashion school in KZN in 1965.

“I always knew I wanted to uplift women and make them feel good about themselves. I wanted them to know that they have a right to be happy and help them become a little independent, even though they lived at home.”

What started off as offering courses mainly related to fashion and dress-making, Bhika added a variety of courses, including catering, baking, dance and even French classes.

“I started a course for whatever was the need at the time if it meant that I helped uplift the people coming to the school. Some of the courses were just a part-time thing like the French lessons, which I did for a group of students who were travelling overseas, but others like baking and cake decorating become permanent,” said Bhika.

Now in her seventies and grounded in her religion, Bhika said her success is all credited to God who has blessed her “beyond measure” and she hopes to continue her work at the school for as long as God allows.

“When I look around I see that I have achieved what I set out to, which was to inspire women and make a change. I was just one person with a passion. I still come to work every day. My students give me life. They fill me with excitement and joy and make me feel younger. There are many success stories that have come out of the school and I know I’ve made a difference and changed some people’s lives.”

Bhika said she has a great support system in her school staff, some of whom have been her students.

“I worked very hard to get to where I am and achieve the many accolades that I have. It wasn’t easy but I believe if you put 100% into your career you will reap the rewards,” she said.

Bhika has received countless awards over the years. From being recognised in the Pietermaritzburg business community to international awards for being a woman who has influenced the lives of others and cementing herself in the community as an agent for change.

“If 50 years is as good as what I am seeing now, I’d love to live longer. It has been a completely uplifting journey which would not have been possible without God.”

In celebration of 50 years, Pietermaritzburg’s School of Fashion Design will host a show at the city hall on 28 November where style and creativity merge, featuring collections of the first- and second-year graduates.

For more information about the fashion show or to buy tickets, contact the school at 033 345 4671 or email

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