Meet the award-winning SA designer who's made jeans for Meghan Markle and Cyril Ramaphosa

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Tshepo Mohlala is the brains behind the brand Tshepo Jeans that creates bespoke demin pieces. (Photo: Instagram)
Tshepo Mohlala is the brains behind the brand Tshepo Jeans that creates bespoke demin pieces. (Photo: Instagram)

Local designer Tshepo Mohlala has made jeans for Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and dungarees for her son, Archie, which he presented to her during her 2019 royal tour of Africa, and since then, his star has only been rising. 

Having recently bagged two wins – the Overall Top Brand and the Top Apparel Brand at the Youth-Owned Brand Awards (YOBA), Tshepo says the awards are "like an accreditation from the industry to say they recognise the work we’re doing".

The YOBAs celebrate the innovation and hard work of South African youth-owned brands and although Tshepo didn’t start his business for validation, “for us to get an award is a beautiful reminder that we’re doing good work".

When Tshepo (30), who's from the small township of Tsakane in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, took out a loan of R8 000 in 2015 to fulfil his dream of creating bespoke denim pieces, he never imagined that only a few years later he’d be employing more than 20 people, and have his denim creations worn by British royalty and President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

 READ MORE | Duchess Meghan makes surprise stop in Johannesburg to support local artists and designers

“We’ve come a long way,” he says with a laugh. As the owner of a startup company, Tshepo is thankful to have been able to keep his business' doors open despite the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

“We had to rethink the way we do business, how we connect with our customers and create sustainable communities. We were placed in a different position because we had to figure out how to sell more denim during a time when people weren’t spending money.

"Our team adopted a ‘we want to win’ attitude, and that pushes us to work harder, thrive for vibrancy and remain funky in our way of business.”

Tshepo adds that the firm's dreams haven't changed. “Our goal is still global domination,” he says confidently.

“We want to use our denim to tell stories around the world, to make an international impact, and to build on African heritage globally while creating a sustainable brand for future generations.”

Recounting his visit from the Duchess of Sussex in 2019, he says it started with a phone call from the British embassy telling him that Meghan wanted to order a pair of his jeans for herself.

"I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was a prank.

“Even though she was in South Africa we didn’t think she’d pick them up personally, but after I made them, I received another call that she’d be in our space to personally pick up the jeans."

Meghan was surprised with a special gift for Archie when she picked up the pants.

“My team and I decided to honour her son with cute dungarees, and her heart-warming reaction when I handed them to her will be forever etched in my memory. It was so beautiful seeing her maternal side come to life,” he adds.

“She’s the realest person I’ve met. She walks into a space and is such a warm person and everyone wants to interact with [her].”

The designer studied fashion design at the University of Johannesburg but had to drop out due to financial constraints.

Starting his own brand was a blessing in disguise, he says.

“I went from couch surfing to having the Duchess of Sussex wearing my brand, and for me that's just incredible on its own,” he says.

Tshepo is inspired by three women in his life – his mother, grandmother and aunt – and he wants his jeans to be a vehicle to restore hope.

“I started this brand because I wanted to tell a story and there’s so much a pair of jeans can tell you about someone, which is exactly what we strive for at Tshepo Jeans.”

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