Johannesburg - South African-born fashion designer and
entrepreneur Lesego Malatsi has gone from stitching ready-to-wear garments in a
Soweto township mall set amid shanties to savouring the sweet success of
London's fashion week.
Malatsi had his first international show at the weekend in
the British capital, where he displayed a collection of new-look African prints
at the Fashions Finest event backed by Richard Branson's Virgin Unity
"Honestly, you don't know how to prepare," Malatsi
said from London in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Malatsi has taken a long road to London that started in a
tiny home in Soweto.
He first tried his hand at accounting after leaving high
school, but a stint at a cosmetics company altered his career aspirations.
"(It) changed my mind and how I saw things," he
He then studied fashion at the Cape Peninsula University of
Technology and has been making clothes since.
Money was tough to come by for a young man living in the wrong
part of Africa's richest city, but he eventually opened a store in a Soweto
mall to sell his clothes.
He has 12 full-time staff at a firm called Mzansi Design
Emporium and envisions having nearly 900 employees in the next five years.
His African print and inspired garments gained greater
exposure after a Cambridge University student purchased garments from his
Soweto store and later invited him to showcase his work at a university show.
The student then used him as a supplier for a British clothing
store that featured African goods, which later helped him earn the London
fashion week invitation.
"I used what I thought is authentically South African,
and colours representing the diversity of the country's culture," he said.
Malatsi said designers must be true to themselves and their
roots if they are to impress an international audience.
"In many instances designers have been encouraged to try use the European model, which is the wrong approach. My understanding now is if you want to be a global competitor, you must bring something to compete with."
His show in London caused barely a ripple back home in South
Africa, where his store still sells competitively-priced clothing to customers
more concerned about costs than the emerging fame of the designer behind them.
Store manager Dipuo Malatsi said: "Fame and popularity
matter, but our customers are used to buying (his clothes) at the normal