Last year, Palesa Mokubung, founder and creative director of the local fashion label Mantsho, received a call that would change the trajectory of her business. Swedish giant retailer H&M wanted to partner with Mantsho to release a collection celebrating the elegance and vibrancy of Africa, with modern edgy designs created for the stylish confident woman – exactly what Mantsho is premised on. It would be the clothing retailer’s first-ever collaboration with an African designer.
While a brand collaboration of this magnitude was not an easy decision to make, Mokubung decided to go for it. She felt that she had a lot to learn from a 72-year-old, billion-dollar retail house with 4 958 stores (as of February 2019) across the globe. Also, saying no would mean betraying her brand ethos of being a bold and confident woman.
Cue launch day, and the Mantsho x H&M merchandise sold out at several local H&M stores within hours. #MantshoxHM trended at the top spot nationally on Twitter, garnering widespread media attention from Teen Vogue, Essence, CNN and Bloomberg, among other outlets.
“What has been happening is that we’ve been getting a lot of new clients and Mantsho is now a fully-fledged international brand,” she tells Kings & Queens 👑
How did you end up studying fashion?
I’ve always known that I’m a creative; so are my father and brother (who designed the Mantsho logo). So when I finished school, I didn’t worry much about what I was going to study — I just knew that it would be in arts.
How was Mantsho established?
I started out in the design industry at Stoned Cherrie as a junior designer. After entering a national design competition and winning in the fashion category, I parted ways with Stoned Cherrie on good terms and went on to travel the world. Part of the prize included shooting a 13-episode televised series, after which I set up my own fashion label.
I put my best foot forward and relied on my talent, experience and all the knowledge I had received from Stoned Cherrie and had a go at it. I wanted a name that is natively South African. Mantsho means ‘black is beautiful’ in Sesotho.
How did you secure the funding to get started?
I’ve never had funding or help. My business is 100% owned by me. I built it from dress to dress, skirt to skirt, top to top. I don’t owe anybody, nor have loans. I started off with a focus of order-to-order. Now we’re going deal-to-deal. But for me, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a profit of R3 000, R30 000 or more, I still treat all customers the same.
What differentiates Mantsho from other labels?
I have a good eye for fabric, patterns and prints. And we create some of the prints on Mantsho garments ourselves. I have a real interest in textiles. We also go to the ends of the earth to look for unique fabrics.