Young fashion designer stitching his way to the top

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Free State born fashion designer says clothes should help boost the self esteem.
Free State born fashion designer says clothes should help boost the self esteem.

He recently launched his fashion brand Excelsior Lusso with the Spring/Summer collection titled Luhambo, meaning ‘journey’ in SeSwati. 

Fashion designer Ernest Mpho Motsi (26) is now ready to take his designs to the world.

After a few years in the industry, he has managed to open a luxury studio in the upmarket neighborhood of Parkhurst in Johannesburg. 

His brand has been worn by media personalities like Rich Mnisi, Teekay Mathebula, Candice Modiselle, Yaya Mavundla, Rosemary Zimu, Lala Tuku, and Phupho Gumede just to mention a few. 

“Excelsior is basically one of the largest gem-quality diamonds found in South Africa around 1893 until 1905 and it is also the name of a place in the Free State where my mother was born and raised. Lusso is the Italian word for luxury and when you put them together you get Excelsior Lusso.”

With barely five years in the fashion industry, he has already had his garments worn by A-listers.

“I am so happy that people acknowledge the talent and the hard work. Things are really starting to look up for our brand,” Ernest says. 

Ernest first launched the streetwear brand, Erned in 2020 but realised he needed to rebrand to a more luxury and sophisticated look and feel and rebranded to Excelsior Lusso in March 2021 with the help of his business partner and funder, Promise Mngomezulu.

“This was the best decision we have ever made. We made mistakes in going the streetwear route but now we can truly show the good quality garments.”

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Ernest studied fashion at STADIO Fashion School (Formerly known as LISOF) but was unable to continue due to financial difficulties. Born Botshabelo, Free State, and raised in different parts of Johannesburg, his grandmother - who they affectionately referred to as Tshanini - was a seamstress and he never once imagined he would follow her footsteps.

“I didn't think I'd have an interest in fashion growing up. It’s only after high school that I started looking into the fashion space and I've been hooked since,” Ernest says.

As a young boy, he was playful and enjoy being outdoors.

“I was a very active and a curious child. I was also very attracted to colour. I remember always seeing some kind of drawing anywhere and wanting to duplicate it,” he says.

“I used to love taking things apart either to make them better or different. I painted, was good at drawing and I did a little bit of graffiti at some point,” he adds.

Once he left fashion design school, he knocked on famous designer doors to try and get some hands-on experience.

“I have worked for a brand called Upcycle, their focus was on sustainability, reusing waste fabrication to recreate new things. That was interesting. I also had the opportunity to work with Quiteria Atelier for more than a year or so. We showcased in Cape Town, Paris, and other countries and I worked with designer Otiz Seflo.”

Ernest says working with experienced designers gave him a good sense of what to expect in the real fashion industry.

“It really broadened my understanding of the industry. Quiteria was a great mentor and really opened my eyes to the industry and working with him and Otiz equipped me for the industry,” he says.

The knowledge he has learned in the various design houses has prepared him to run his well-oiled business.

“The studio is a creative place where everyone feels at home. It’s a safe and creative space for consultations and creating magic,” Ernest says.

"I work hand in hand with Promise, who is great at handling the books. We have two machinists, a marketing manager, accounts and admin, and me the creative engine of the brand. We use a lot of freelancers for other work such as embroidery and other services we might need.”

Ernest draws inspiration from late London designer Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010.

“Alexander was fearless, every artist, and knew that the only thing standing between him, and his best work is fear. I feel he eliminated fear and spoke his truth through his pieces and that’s what made him great. My creative process starts with an idea, a feel or gathered information from a client, then the sketch process until the sketch is approved, then patterns and finally garment construction buy our machinists,” he says.

Being a self-employed young designer in South Africa is not easy but Ernest has built a loyal client who trusts the quality of his work.

“Being a designer in South Africa is tough overall. I believe there is a lack of infrastructure and production is very expensive for designers. To get the best and make good quality garments, you have to spend.”

His dream is to inspire young designers and instill some confidence and self-love in people. Fashion is all about boosting people’s confidence and self-esteem, getting them out of their comfort zones and falling in love with themselves again by the way they look and feel in our garments.” 

His long-term goal is to grow his brand to an international standard.

“The plan is to grow our team, clientele, and the way people view fashion in South Africa, the entire fashion scene,” Ernest says.

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