BD: Please tell us about your upbringing
AK: I was born 25 years ago in a small town called Gatyana in the Eastern Cape. I grew up in different places and got different cultural influences. My mother was a teacher and constantly made sure that education was the central focus in my life. In 2011, I matriculated from Lobone Secondary School in Mofolo Soweto.
BD: What kind of a family or household did you grow up in?
AK: I grew up under the watchful eyes of Christian parents who would always enforce discipline. My mother had the most influence on my life and taught me a great deal of things including how to do those so called “girl child chores.” She made sure that the “gender roles” ideology never manifested itself in my life. It is through this that I learnt how to cook, doing household chores which included ironing and basic needle work. The latter helps me today in my suit tailoring business!
AK: My high school days were the best. I was always challenged to better myself and my love for education was unbelievable at the time!. I was a somewhat reserved youngster and would hardly go out to meet up with friends or spend time in the streets. It worked to my advantage as I matriculated top of my class and came first amongst all Soweto Schools Matriculants. Among public schools, I came second in the Gauteng province in 2011.
BD: You actually studied what is known as one of the most challenging courses, actuarial sciences. How does a young man from Soweto come to know about actuarial sciences?
AK: Our Maths teacher, Mr Ambrose Lekoma brought the Actuarial Science gospel to my attention. I had never heard of the discipline before so it was quite intriguing to learn about a profession that would “calculate when people would die”. Well that was the perception I had before actually studying it. What also resonated with me was that there were not many black actuaries in South Africa. I loved being different so I knew instinctively that it would be a career path I wanted to follow.
BD: To be able to study actuarial sciences, how hard did you have to work in high school?
AK: I had to work extra hard to be admitted into studying the degree. The entrance requirements were distinctions for both Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I had to trade off my sleep in order to achieve this goal.
BD: Do you plan on leaving your job to run your business full time or do you plan on doing both?
AK: In the long run, I would like to concentrate on running my bespoke suit tailoring business on a full time basis. In the meantime, I am currently working on both as they are both close to my heart.
BD: How do you juggle the two?
AK: During the day, I do my Actuarial work on a nine to five basis. After 5pm, I then proceed to run the affairs of my business. Be it meeting my tailoring team, suppliers, clients or just running errands. The trick for me is to be efficient in whatever I do so that my schedules do not get affected. It is quite hectic balancing the two because in between I have to concentrate on my board examinations as well.
AK: When I started working in corporate last year, I frequently got compliments on my dress sense. On a daily basis, I made sure to wear a blazer and tie. This triggered an idea to actually consider making a return out of my styling skills that people were noticing in me.
BD: You started your business with only R500, how did you do it?
AK: There was a place in Johannesburg CBD that sold old blazers from Europe for R50 each. I would buy those and get them tailored and dry cleaned to be as good as new. The costs were minimal but this business model was restrictive as altering these blazers to certain sizes was impossible. At this point, I decided to move to buying the suits brand new with a wider range of sizes. With time, this also proved to be not desirable as I had minimal input in the product itself. I took a leap of faith at this stage and set up a team of full time tailors who make bespoke suits according to my specifications.
BD: Upon knowing or deciding to start your own business, did you do any courses in fashion or design?
AK: I did not. It didn’t cross my mind. Besides, I love taking action immediately when I think of something. Courses were going to slow down my plans. I however did a lot of reading on the internet and would spend hours looking at fashion trends on Social platforms. This opened my eyes and got me awakened on fundamental rules to be followed when wearing suits. This was important to me because I intended to break them. But as they say, before you break the rules, understand why they exist in the first place.
BD: Your speciality is styling. Would you say you have always had an eye for fashion?
AK: Well, growing up I was a dull character and would not really dress up for any occasion. I however recall being particular about the clothing I wore. My mother tells me that even at an age of 3, I would run to change my clothes as soon as they got dirty. For me, it was more of an image and appearance issue and not a style matter. The last few months have just been an epiphanic moment as I have learnt that I actually love being stylish.
BD: There are many household brands and retailers that manufacture suits. What makes suitability stand out?
AK: Suits are mostly generic garments. They have pretty much similar specifications and the only differentiator is the minor detail and the quality of the work produced. However, everyone is doing great on this front. Our specialty is mostly on the customer experience side of things. We work extra hard to ensure that our clients leave with their products happy. We do not only push for the best sale, we consider the client’s current wardrobe status and needs to assist them in making a decision. From experience, this has helped us to grow our client base tremendously. We create a family out of our clients which promotes repeat business and stickiness. Our other unique selling point is the style we bring about. We are big on breaking rules to achieve greater styling goals. We always try to push the boundaries in matching colours that have previously been thought of as fashion disasters. That’s Suitability.
BD: You design for both men and women. Was this a conscious decision, or did it come along as the business grew?
AK: We design for both ladies and gentlemen. For the longest part of our business journey we have been predominantly designing male suits. Due to requests from quite a few ladies, we have started designing for them as well.
BD: Who is your target market?
AK: Our target market is people that value style and are willing to join us in the journey of creating new fashion precedents. We offer two ranges of suits. Suitability made-to-measure or readymade and Suitability Premium, bespoke made. This allows us to capture both ends of the entire client spectrum.
AK: As a young black man with family responsibilities at home means certain sacrifices need to be made. Sometimes after budgeting to use my salary to expand my business, something comes up at home and one needs to pitch in. It is not a negative point altogether but it does slows things down. It is just important to find a perfect balance between family financial obligations and growing a business. The other challenge is mentorship. I did not have any great business model to emulate and had to learn from my mistakes.
BD: How do you deal with criticism?
AK: I have learnt to sift through all types of criticisms I get to figure out which ones are constructive. I always take them to heart because learning is the most important part of any journey.
AK: Building. Seeing my ideas materialize and looking at the final product just does it for me. I get motivated by the thought of being the person behind a fashion powerhouse. This is the reason why I fail to quit even when things are hectic.
BD: Where to from here?
AK: Spread like cancer! No limits.