Born in the rural area of Boschfontein, Mpumalanga, fashion designer Wetive Nkosi spoke to Black Diamonds Magazine.
WN: I was raised by my sister because our mother was working away from home spending all her time selling fruits and vegetables so to earn a living for her 7 children. Although it was tough, it became a good training for me to learn to take care of myself from an early age. My sister who is a teacher always used to say, “You must make it a mission of making a good life for yourself.” She played a big role in my life. She introduced me to Christianity and helped me live my life according to those principles.
BD: What did you do after Grade 12?
WN: I decided to do a degree in Industrial Sociology and got my first degree at the age of 19 from the University of Zululand. Although my first choice was to study music and drama at RAU, I did not meet their points system requirements – which lead me to take up my second choice of studies which was to pursue a degree in BA in Industrial Sociology and that is how I ended up at Zululand. It was when I was doing my Honours in Sociology that I discovered my passion for fashion. At the same time, I was involved in student Christian fellowship where we hosted a lot of functions which inspired me to be creative when constructing my garments just to maintain a distinctive look.
BD: How did you get started?
WN: My sister blessed me by buying me my first sewing machine which enabled me to fully express and showcase my creativity thus attracting the admiration of students on campus who then began to notice and appreciate my talent . As my skill was not yet polished- my confidence in taking orders from people was lacking, as I was still failing to make perfect fits for myself and I would have to make adjustments several times before I was satisfied with my craft. As a result, my earliest customers had to come and sit by me while I made adjustments for them too- luckily they were very patient.
BD: So you found yourself getting regular customers. How did you progress from there?
WN: By the time I had two machines, I realised my limitations and decided to move to Johannesburg so as to broaden my horizons and take up Fashion design, not just a hobby but as a career . This decision brought about a huge challenge to me I was concerned as to how I would communicate it to my sister and her husband who had done so much for me by supporting me both financially and emotionally with attaining my degrees in Sociology. God granted me the strength and wisdom as I sat them down and shared with them my vision and honestly I was very humbled and overwhelmed at their response. They basically said they would continue to support me in doing what was in my heart as long as it made me happy.
BD: So when did you move to Johannesburg?
WN: Upon my arrival in Johannesburg which was in 2010, I called Lali Dangazele, the actress, and asked her for assistance with accommodation for a week at her residence at WITS University where she was studying her masters. I was later referred to the Motubatse family who helped me look for accommodation around Johannesburg. When this proved difficult, they took me in for five months for free and treated me as their own child.
BD: So you enrolled in Fashion school?
WN: Yes I did, I was able to enrol myself at Sew Africa Fashion Design College with the R6000 I had saved up prior to my arrival in Johannesburg. That money soon ran out after a month because I took care of all school necessities.
BD: Where did you get transport money?
WN: Some of my friends helped me but others would say, “We graduated at the same time, why don’t you get a job?” I was a burden but today they are proud of me.
BD: How did you do in fashion school?
WN: My hard work earned me the Top First Year Student Award- which came to me as a surprise as I had no idea that the top student received full sponsorship for their second year studies. I cried when I received this news as my future became brighter with the favour that was upon me from God. I was now even more challenged to excel in my studies so as to maintain the level of performance that is expected of a top student. I did exactly that and received the award yet again- full sponsorship for third year!!!
BD: Were you still staying with the family that took you in?
WN: I was now renting a room in Mondeor and I often paid my rent late but the landlord, was patient with me because I would only manage to pay rent after selling dresses that I made for clients. Eventually she lost her patience and called me in and showed me all her bills, explaining that they needed to be paid on time. I cried. She spoke to me for more than half an hour but all I remember was her asking me, “For how long are you going to live like this?” I sat there quietly as I was brought up not to talk back to elders when they address me as a child. You simply listen and obey. When she had finished talking, I stood up and went to my room and continued crying. Her question haunted me and I then moved out to Johannesburg CBD where I shared an apartment with a fellow student. Gradually the orders started coming in and I eventually moved in to my own flat in early 2011.
BD: What are you doing now?
WN: I am currently running my own business in Fashion Design as I have finished my Diploma.
BD: Was it a great opportunity getting your first show?
WN: It was an overwhelming experience which has now opened many doors for me in this industry. My first collection consisted of six garments that I had to make in five days! That is no mean feat, as you have to find the fabric, make the patterns, stitch- the works, oh it was a nightmare!!!! I had two hours sleep in five days, and I drank a lot of coffee and took energy supplements to increase my focus levels and help me to stay awake. It was an unforgettable door and eye opener for me where getting down to real business is concerned!!. I was ready to give up on the sixth garment and went to African Fashion International offices to tell them that I could only do five garments by the set deadline but to my surprise they decided to be lenient towards me and gave me an extension to allow me time to finish the sixth one as long as it was before the show.
BD: How did the show go?
WN: It was an absolute success – in spite of the challenges I met on the day. The main challenge was that I discovered two hours before the show was scheduled to start that the shoes that were sponsored for my models were in direct contrast with the collection I was show-casing. Fortunately, the CEO of the buying and merchandising teams of Foschini happened to have an appointment in Hyde Park with the director of the College I was attending. As a man of great influence, he was able to organise urgent sponsorship on my behalf with Lulluela – the shoe shop. I can safely say he saved the day!!!!!!
BD: Tell us about your Internship at The Foschini Group (TFG)
It was a wonderful, challenging, inspiring and educative six weeks spent in Cape Town. We spent a great amount of time shadowing Foschini’s buying and merchandising teams and working in the factory. I can say that technology proved to be very much ahead of me as I was the only designer who did my work manually as opposed to the rest of the team who were using advanced computer programmes to work on their designs. That fact did not work in my favour as I was always last to finish the tasks at hand.
BD: What inspires your designs?
WN: It depends on the clients brief on the project at hand, the theme that has been given, the season or the colours. I am a very detailed person. I love neat work and take my time to produce good quality clothes.
BD: Do you still have the first item you made?
WN: Yes I do. It was a black dress for my student fellowship functions that I mentioned earlier.
BD: What does the future look like for you?
WN: I have great ambitions and aspirations towards a future I believe to be bright and prosperous. That which my eyes have not seen, my ears not heard and my heart not conceived is everything that the future holds for me.
BD: Any advice for young people in general and young people in the fashion industry, specifically?
WN: I believe that it is imperative for an individual to discover their passion, nurture it and most importantly live it each and every day of their lives!!!! Always strive for originality in your craft as that becomes a distinct trademark to which you are recognised with. Learn and grow from failures of yesterday but work towards a better tomorrow! Never give up on your dreams until they become your reality!
BD: How do you cope with your Christian principles and the challenges that the fashion industry poses?
WN: Before I exist in the fashion industry, I am a person living in society. If I can cope in a society of divergent values, I can survive in the fashion industry. When you are confronted by certain realities that you cannot change, you have to pick yourself up and tell yourself you are strong. I have a very strong attitude towards life.
BD: On a final note, we believe you have met Nelson Mandela.
WN: It was in March 2008 when Madiba was well enough to meet the Mandela –Rhodes scholars. This is the scholarship I was awarded for my Masters in Sociology. We were a group of about thirty students from all over the African continent. They arranged for us to meet him in Houghton. He walked in slowly and I said to myself, “wow, this is really happening!” We were each given time to sit with him for a chat. During our conversation I thanked him for supporting us with the opportunity to further our studies. He told me to study hard and not let anyone look down on me. He was lucid and made a lot of jokes.
Wetive Nkosi has had opportunities to exhibit in the following events and received recognition:
- Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg March 2012
- Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa October 2012
- African Mosaiqu Fashion show in Ethopia Addis Ababa January 2013
- Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg March 2013
- Mbokodo Award an initiative by Carol Bouwer Prodcutions in the Category Fashion Design.