A penchant for cutting things

BD: Who are you and how was your upbringing?

OJ: My full name is Onela Joni , people simply call me  O.J. I was born and bred in Butterworth, a small town in the Eastern Cape. Later on my parents bought a house in Mthatha when I was 12, but by that time I was at boarding school. I went to Indwe Boarding High School from grade 6 to matric so my upbringing was mostly  time away from home. I would only go home at weekends and holidays.  All of that is part of what has moulded me. Being at boarding school taught me to be independent and responsible.


BD: How was growing up in Butterworth?

OJ: My earliest childhood memories would  always be about me getting in trouble for cutting things and clothes around the house. There were always papers everywhere and I remember my mom and grandmother always having to hide scissors away from me. This one time I cut out a big hole on my mother’s vintage leather jacket because I wanted to make a little version of it for my doll. Growing up I damaged a lot of my own clothing as fabric for my dolls. Even though I would often cut out clothes I felt were getting old or small, I always got a beating whenever I was caught so I was often in the hiding with my scissors in some corner or even under the bed.

An OJ outfit

An OJ outfit

BD: When did you know you wanted to be in the fashion industry?

OJ: I have always known that I was a creative, from the time I was 8. I could draw better than anyone in my class and I was always attracted to colours and beautiful things.  At first I thought I’d be a fine artist but it became clear to me what I really wanted to do when I was in grade 8, when I started  designing dresses.

BD: What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you wanted to be a fashion designer?

OJ: I feel truly blessed because I have supportive parents who saw my calling and encouraged me to do what I love because I grew up a creative and they have always been my biggest fans.


BD: Upon getting into the working environment, what surprised you most about your industry?

OJ: What surprised me the most about the fashion industry was that it’s not all glitz and glamour. Fashion is a business and any business takes hard work and dedication.

BD: What are some challenges you faced in your industry and how did you overcome those?

OJ: The biggest challenge I’ve had to face is starting my business on my own with no capital. The little help from my parents to start was not enough but it gave me a start to buy my first industrial machine. I had to take small steps and be patient enough to see the growth of the business. It did not happen overnight and needed some paper work. My business needed to be registered, have a business account, tax clearance and so on. I needed a business plan. Last year, 2017, I even thought of going back to looking for a job, but I quickly learned that perseverance is everything.  It’s only this year  that I am getting funding from G.E.P, after  I was invited to a pitching booster competition and won a bit of a start up to grow my business .

BD: How has the public received your brand?

OJ: I started the brand with ready to wear on street wear because I figured, let me think business rather than just fashion. Street wear is every day clothing and easy for people to buy than, for example, a glamorous dress they need to think, where they going to wear it.  So I designed and made hoodies, tracksuits and t shirt with the OJ logo and to my pleasant surprise, the brand was well received and got me on my feet to build the brand further

Onela putting final touches to one of her designs

Onela putting final touches to one of her designs


BD: There are many loved and trusted household clothing brands. What makes yours different?

OJ: What makes my brand different is that it’s who I am. It’s personal and it’s the love and passion I put on every item. Also my relationship with my clients feels that of friendship and family because people want to be part of something great and I believe my brand is the begining of that something.


BD: What has been your most memorable moment in fashion?

OJ: My most memorable moment in fashion is quite recent.  Showcasing in New York Fashion week this year in February. New York Fashion week was a God sent opportunity that randomly came my way through social media.  I got tagged on the designer search competition last November and I applied. I sent in my portfolio and got an email in January that I was one of the international designers selected to showcase in their international showcase. It was a dream come true and I will never forget the experience. That just made me believe that dreams do come true and we should never stop pushing towards all our dreams.

One of Onela's designs

One of Onela’s designs

BD: Who motivates you?

OJ: I am motivated by my dreams not a person, the future of the brand and watching it grow motivates me to keep pushing. I don’t have a child but my brand feels like watching your child grow and it’s an amazing feeling.

BD: What fulfils you about fashion?

OJ: Seeing clients happy in an OJ Design does the trick for me. I believe that when you look good, you feel good and all I want is to make people feel great.

BD: What is the industry like for a young black woman?

OJ: Being a young black woman is still a challenge in the fashion industry, as it is in most industries but I feel like the fashion industry is slowly giving black woman the confidence and opportunity to run successful business. Seeing amazing women show case their work in big platforms gives me the confidence to continue doing what I’m doing so that I, too one-day, can be a role model or mentor to future designers. It’s our responsibility to those of us that are already doing it to encourage, inspire and teach. Starting your own business is not easy and it’s a challenge that can easily make you want to give up.

BD: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

OJ: I see myself owning my first shop in South Africa. Right now I’m still working and selling at a studio. But in the next five years I’ll be running a successful in house factory with its own shop, doing mass production and distributing the brand in different parts of Africa and out of the continent.


BD: What advice do you have for a young man or woman out there, looking to study fashion?

OJ: My advice to other young looking into getting into fashion is first, passion. Have passion.  When you are passionate, doing what you love, you are bound to succeed.  Take small steps. Get experience.  Work for someone at first before doing your own thing. Remember that fashion is not only about the glitz and glamour we see on TV and magazines. Always remember fashion is a business and business needs mental strength perseverance. Dream a dream big. It’s my dreaming that got me to showcase in New York Fashion week this year in February and it’s my dreaming that will grow my brand.

A dress Onela designed for one of South Africa's young  celebrity.

A dress Onela designed for one of South Africa’s young celebrity.


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