Teen entrepreneur making fashion waves

Cape Town - Inspiration is everywhere - as underlined by the story of 19-year-old Bonolo Mataboge.

The “serial entrepreneur” and “plus size” designer grabbed attention when she launched her fashion label AfriBlossom at the Bus Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg last week.

Describing her journey from selling contraband Drink’O Pop at break time in primary school to up-and-coming fashion designer, she said not even Blount’s disease and the frequent surgeries throughout her life could hold her back from achieving greatness.

In an inspirational email to Fin24 on her business endeavours, Mataboge writes:

"One year I graduated to buying Woolworths Valentine’s Day fortune cookies and lollipops after the holiday at half price and selling them at the retail price (the price that appeared on the packaging) to my classmates.

"I remember one girl making snide remarks that I was stupid because I was just making my money back... I chuckled to myself thinking 'I'm making 100% profit!'

"Since then I have done many small scale things like personalising pens and cutlery with Loopy-Doo’s, designing a T-shirt range which was worn by a crew on the Cape to Rio yacht race and having a mini fashion show as a farewell party before I left to be an exchange student in America.

"I’ve always been creatively inclined so when I started to decide which career path to follow, I knew I’d be in the creative world somehow.

"When I was in America I found it so easy to find fashionable clothes that fit me, I know this may seem like a silly thing to get excited about but it is very difficult to find flattering and fashionable clothes in plus sizes in South Africa. So this got me thinking that I could bring this fabulous experience home to other big girls, and the 'plus size' designer in me was born."

That's what AfriBlossom is all about - designs for "plus size" women. Mataboge said she consciously started designing on bigger croquis (fashion) figures instead of the standard skinny ones and also thought about the needs of bigger women and "what does and doesn’t work on us".

Meant to be in fashion

She continues: "Throughout my high school career I made sure I took either art or design to building on my creative skills, which wasn’t always easy as I attended six high schools in five years. In my matric year I took design and I found that I was good at designing patterns and textiles. This discovery solidified in my mind that I was meant to be in the fashion industry.

"I worked very hard to stay in the top three of design and at the end of the year I passed with a 95% mark and six distinctions overall."

Despite news that could deal a blow to fashion design dream, the feisty 19-year old pushed ahead and enrolled at the London International School of Fashion (Lisof).

Because of the Blount's disease, she needed external fixation to fix the 4.7cm deficit between her left and right leg. "I was told this would be a long process taking a minimum of 6 months, but I continued with my plans to study fashion design at Lisof.

Blount's disease
"During my first term of my degree I had to navigate a host of logistical challenges  - I was on crutches and we had to carry various things such as sewing machines to our classes.

"I was dealt another blow in the week before and during the first week of second term when I developed a serious pin tract infection, which called for emergency surgery. Back home to heal for a couple of weeks I made a hard decision to not go back to school, but to rather focus on my health and then start again the next year.

"The first two weeks after I dropped out were great, I really enjoyed being home and stress free."

But the honeymoon was short . "I started getting bored and I thought of ways to occupy my time and mind constructively so it didn’t feel like I wasted a year at home."

Support structure

"At school everyone was preparing for the big fashion show at the end of the year. I had always wanted to have a proper fashion show so I started toying with the idea of putting together my own little show. I ran the idea past my mom and she was keen to make this happen.

"I started working on some designs and thinking of a concept for the show. My mom started telling her friends and colleagues about my idea and one of them suggested I write a proposal to the City of Joburg for a sponsorship. I wrote the proposal and sent it through, not expecting much and next thing I know the City was on board and the show was becoming bigger than I expected."

"After the city got involved I knew I had to get the clothes professionally made, not just by a tailor but by a CMT and that is when I went on the hunt and found Bryan (Brett) on OLX.

"We met with Bryan and he appraised my work, gave me advice/ homework and agreed to not just take on the project but take me under his wing and show me the ropes of the industry. Bryan and I got a cohesive collection together from my many sketches and began production. We went fabric shopping, picked colours, etc.

"While the clothes were coming along I had to get the actual event put together. It was very hard work finding a suitable state-owned venue, producer and DJ, runway, lights, sound, decor, marketing material, media, buyers, volunteers, accessories etc.

"I am not the most organised person so this was a particularly hard task, but thanks to my lucky starts and some amazing sponsors who came on board everything kind of fell into place thanks.

"My mom, who is a marketer by trade, marketed the show like crazy and made a huge financial sacrifice and funded the show out of her pocket. My models - who looked like pro's on the runway - were people we met on the street and asked to be models, friends and my mom's colleagues.

Bonolo Mataboge with the models. (Supplied)

Bonolo Mataboge with the models. (Supplied)

"My friends Kevin Radebe,  Bohlale Makgalemele and Vangile Mpumlwana respectively designed my logo, business cards, all the marketing material and a photo exhibition, doubled up as project manager and created an original track for the runway show.

"Then there were my cousins Nelly en Maureen, who did anything and everything from peeling vegetables to dressing my models to Maureen modeling at the last minute.

"Which brought we to my new motto: 'Teamwork makes the dream work' because without everyone chipping in the show would never have happened."

After reading her story Fin24 decided to probe more:

Why AfriBlossom?

I had initially named the label African Blossom because I believe now is the time for Africa to blossom and shine, and AB is one of the blossoms on the African tree of greatness.

I didn’t just want to be an observer in this coming of age but wanted to be a part of nurturing the progress of our country and continent in the best way I know how. I recently shortened the name to AfriBlossom.

How did you transition from “idea” to execution?

I’ve been doing this for some years - designing garments and either selling the design or drawing to a client and going to a tailor to get it made for them. When I was 16 years old I enrolled into an exchange programme, and as a farewell party I had a mini fashion show of beachwear in front of my friends and family.

"Evolution of Womanhood" (the AfriBlossom fashion show) was the first time I took what I do to a professional level.

I attended fashion school (in London) for first-term and applied the knowledge of the industry I attained in that short space of time.

I also surrounded myself with people who could help me execute my vision.

Who inspires you?

My mom is my inspiration. When I think of where she came from in rural Mpumalanga to where she is now and in life. She continuously inspires me to better myself.

I am also inspired by ordinary people living with terrible diseases but keep being positive and help others like Reggie Bibbs and the late Talia Castellano.

Do you have a mentor who helps you stay your course in life? If so, how important it is to have a mentor?

Yes I have two, one is my mom and the other is Bryan Brett. My mom guides me on how to market myself and get to the people I need. She always says I am my best Public Relations.

Bryan is my creative and fashion mentor. He used to be a buyer and has vast knowledge on how the industry works.

Apart from taking care of the production of my garments, Bryan helped me focus my 1 000 000 ideas into a cohesive collection and helped me simplify my designs to make them economically viable.

What can you say to other dreamers out there who do not know where to begin?

If you really want something, go for it. If you lack a skill or knowledge, ask for help. You will be surprised at how willing people are to help and guide you. Ask and you shall be given.

My drama teacher has always said: “The furthest you can fall is the floor,” so take that leap of faith, your success or failure will not end the world.

You can only grow and be happier when you do what you love. It’s better to try and fail than to always wonder “what if…”

Which sponsors did you manage to get on board?

City of Joburg - venue, runway seating (300 chairs) joc services (security, emergency services, etc)
Gauteng Enterprise Propeller - paid for direct costs from some sponsors
Enterstage Africa - sound, lighting , draping and ramp/runway
Lounge Around - All the furniture at the event
Pichulik - borrowed us all the jewelry at the show and photo shoot
Palesa Wines - did welcome drinks/wine tasting
Grant’s Whisky - did welcome drinks

View the gallery:

- Fin24

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Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyBusiness have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.

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