It's no secret that mainstream fashion doesn't often cater to the needs of plus size women. This is especially true when it comes to clothing that is stylish, chic and elegant. But, over the years, it's been a joy to see a number of women taking matters into their own hands and creating fashionable clothing that caters to these exact needs.
One such woman is Teboho Nthabiseng Letseli, founder of plus size denim fashion brand, Sd'ogue Emporium. The brand was launched in 2019 and has since become more than just a denim brand for plus size women, but, in the words of Letseli, "it also stands as a platform to celebrate and affirm big women".
Letseli has a degree in Accounting and is currently working towards completing her honours in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management. While she might not have any formal higher education in fashion, she's a firm believer that one person can have multiple passions. For her, fashion is a safe space where she can express herself while uplifting a community of big and beautiful women.
We recently caught up with her to find out about her fashion journey, her current collection and her advice for someone who wants to build their own brand.
Where did your personal fashion journey begin?
Growing up, I used to admire how long it took for my mom to get dressed in the morning. She always paid special attention to how she looked. From then on I knew I had to do the same. I've always liked looking good and dressing well, all the women in my family have. When I was 14 years old I designed my first fashion line, but it never really took off. I guess the timing wasn't right.
What has been your greatest milestone thus far, as it relates to your brand, and how was this moment for you?
I'm extremely sentimental so every milestone is very big for me, but the greatest was launching my ambassador search, and seeing so many women interested in representing my brand. I spend so much time convincing other people and myself about this brand and its worth. To witness the fruits of my labour, through so many people offering to model my clothes (some even for free) because of what it stands for, made me realise the impact I'm actually making.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a result of the national lockdown? And how did you overcome them?
The national lockdown heavily impacted consumer buying behaviour. Some of my clients just couldn't afford spending money on clothing anymore. This period pushed me to be innovative and to try methods I've never tried before, such as partnering with an amazing woman-owned online shopping platform called Shop Hellen Rose, launching my first ever ambassador search, participating in Black Friday and hiring an external social media agency to help me strengthen my social media strategies
How would you describe the clothes at Sd’ogue Emporium?
Our clothes are sophisticated, stylish, comfortable and of superior quality. I created these items with my future self in mind, a plus size woman with limited clothing options. I knew that there were thousands of other South African women like me.
Who/ what were your influences for the launch collection? Do you have a muse from whom you draw inspiration?
The inspiration for this collection was definitely class, elegance and comfort. Most of the pieces in this collection are timeless. Our popular formal shirt would've been pertinent 10 years ago, and it still suits 2020's fashion climate. I don't particularly have a muse, but I always have the stylish plus size girl in mind.
Did you study fashion design? Or you are a self-taught designer - can you tell me a bit about that journey?
I don't like referring to myself as a designer because of my lack of the technical skill (I never studied fashion design). I'd like to view myself as a creator, and fashion enthusiast. I love looking good, and I want women my size to look just as good, and that is my journey.
Outside of fashion, are there any other fields that you’re active in?
My undergraduate degree is in Accounting, and I'm currently studying towards my Honours in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management. I'm a huge believer in one having various passions, but some passions are obviously bound to be stronger than others. For me fashion is an escape, and a safe space. In addition to finance, beauty and fashion, I'm also passionate about Skills Development and the upliftment of previously disadvantaged people. (These are the fields I find myself active in.)
Where would you like to see the business in the next couple of years (in what ways would you like to see it grow)?
I see this brand being the opinion leader in all body positivity movements. I see my brand having a footprint all over Africa. Sd'ogue Emporium will be a global brand.
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What advice do you have for someone that wants to start something, but is held back by the uncertainty of it all?
The fact that you could conceive it in the first place, means you'll be able to overcome all uncertainty. Uncertainties in this path are very certain. Don't expect results immediately, give yourself a lot of time. Your brand is like a baby, don't compare your growth or journey to anyone else's. Most importantly surround yourself with people who genuinely love you and will be there for you during uncertainties, because a strong support system is vital.
Do you have a design dictum/mantra that you follow?
My mantra is that the clothing I create should always be a reflection of me. It's very important to me that all the items I put out resemble a piece of me and my personality. Every garment should be an affirming love letter from me to women out there.
What can we can look forward to in 2021?
In 2021, I'll be launching our workout line that will be sexy and comfortable for women between sizes 36-50 to wear at home as lounge wear, or at the gym. You can also look forward to a lot more collaborations with prominent plus size influencers, and more thought provoking conversations from our brand.