Malatsi is congratulated by Sir Richard
Branson at a show in Johannesburg
earlier this year.
(Images: Virgin Unite)
• Lesego Malatsi
Mzansi Designers Emporium
+27 11 336 8935
The UK was treated to an array of Afrocentric designs when South Africa’s Lesego Malatsi showcased his collection at the London Fashion Week, which ran from 16 to 21 September 2011 at different venues across the city.
Malatsi’s collection appeared at the Fashion’s Finest Show on 17 September, among work from US, UK, Nigerian and Ghanaian designers.
“I don’t think any words can explain my feelings of showcasing at such an occasion, especially when it’s considered such a high privilege by my peers in the industry,” he said.
The designer added that it was only when he landed in London that he realised what was happening – this made him anxious and he subsequently suffered a bout of flu.
However, the nervousness subsided when he got down to doing the job, which was to show African creations in the heart of the UK.
“I really tried to remain calm and as the outfits were being completed, I felt a sense of belonging. I realised that I’m actually ready to compete globally,” he said.
London Fashion Week is one of four major events of its kind which take place twice a year. The others are in New York, Paris and Milan.
Malatsi described his participation in the fashion week as “conquering one of his greatest challenges” and achieving one of his main goals.
Speaking about the racial ratio of his models at the show, Malatsi said: “I don’t know the ratio, I didn’t think that way. I just think about people wearing beautiful clothes.” He doesn’t see his clothing as being just for catwalk models, but for everyone.
Malatsi was born and raised in Soweto, a sprawling township in south-western Johannesburg, and his journey to becoming a recognised designer wasn’t without its setbacks.
He dreamed of studying design after school, but Malatsi couldn’t afford a tertiary education.
When his father passed away, his mother used the money she received from his pension payout to send him to college.
“It was difficult to study because fashion is one career that requires a lot of money, it can be elite. I didn’t realise that until I was midway through my studies, so it was not easy, but I wanted a good education,” said Malatsi.
When he finished college be battled to get funding from banks because they were unwilling to invest in an unknown designer.
His breakthrough came when his quest for funding led him to Virgin Unite, Richard Branson’s business mentoring foundation.
Branson is the founder of the Virgin conglomerate of businesses.
With guidance and funding, Malatsi was able to start Mzansi Designers Emporium.
From unemployed to job-creator
Malatsi is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs in South Africa and already has 17 people working for him.
“There is a lot of talent in Africa. It made me realise how important my success was – to not just me and my family, but for empowering other people,” he said.
Malatsi never set out to become an entrepreneur, but now he’s working on a five-year-plan that will enable him to employ at least 850 people.
He said that the extensive use of colour in his designs is a celebration of South Africa being known as the rainbow nation throughout the world.
“I tried to transcend what is seen as European and what is seen as African, forget the racial lines and also change the perception of how clothes should be worn,” said Malatsi.