Teen entrepreneur is building a fashion empire one stitch at a time

Posted on October 14th, 2014

Teen entrepreneur is building a fashion empire one stitch at a time

Bonolo Mataboge’s rise to success is not a rags-to-riches kind of a story, but it’s no less remarkable. As she puts it herself, she comes from a family of over-achievers.

Her father is a doctor, her sister a maths and science genius, and her mother “is good at everything.”

So high were expectations that the young Mataboge’s comfortable upbringing would bear fruits that she has even managed to outdo herself despite having a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to walk.

The 19-years-old, Mataboge is the founder and head designer of Afriblossom, a clothing range only caters for fuller-figured and curvy women from sizes 34 up to 46.

Overcoming disability

As a young child, Mataboge was diagnosed with Blount’s disease – a growth disorder of the shin bone that causes the lower leg to angle inward, or one leg to grow taller than the other.

She has had five surgeries to correct her left leg. The last one in December last year ended with a brace being put around her left leg.

Mataboge says launching Afriblossom was her way of defeating her disability. It’s because of the Blount’s disease that she was forced to drop out of Johannesburg’s Lisof Fashion Design School barely three months into her studies.

In June this year, she took matters into her own hands and registered the business. “[The disease] has never been a big deal for me. I’m used to it,” she says.

“Afriblossom is curvy girl’s heaven in which you find fresh, flattering, modern Afro-chic and budget friendly designs for every occasion”

Full potential for fuller figures

It was a visit to the United States as an exchange student in 2011 that planted the seeds for Afriblossom. According to Mataboge, buying plus-sized clothing was much easier in the States than in South Africa.

On her return, Mataboge put her drawing talent into use and started Afriblossom by designing clothes for this market.

“Afriblossom is a curvy girl’s heaven in which you find fresh, flattering, modern Afro-chic and budget friendly designs for every occasion,” she says. “We really take the female body and the fuller figure into consideration when creating our garments.”

A fully-figured girl herself, Mataboge considers herself a “plus size designer”.

“All my clothes are my designs. But for standardisation and quality reasons, I outsource production to a factory in Johannesburg CBD,” she says.

She says the designs were inspired by the fashion of the sixties fused with influences of Ndebele culture.

“I am building an empire one stitch at a time”

Last month she held a successful one-man fashion show at the Bus Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg, where she officially launched the fashion label.

Mataboge is also working on launching her online store as well as a beachwear clothing range.

“I am not much of a planner because life has taught me that it can throw anything at you. I am building an empire one stitch at a time,” she says.

Despite the success and support she’s currently enjoying, Mataboge plans to return to school to finish her studies.

I am planning on going back to school next year. I am exploring various options but I would ultimately love to study abroad at Parsons School of Fashion in New York City,she says.

Source of inspiration

She attributes a lot of her success and resilience to her mother. “My mom, Siphiwe Sithole, is my ‘almost-best friend’. Everyone says I am the younger and multiplied’ version of her so we understand each other very well. Other than normal‎ family squabbles, we are two peas in a pod,” she says.

Mataboge will soon be meeting with potential retailers for her clothing range.

“I also want to start moving into the textiles industry,” she says.

A part of Afriblossom’s profit goes to the Walk-a-Mile Centre for Advanced Orthopaedics in Pretoria to assist Blount disease patients who cannot afford the necessary medical treatment.

Bonolo Mataboge’s advice to young fellow entrepreneurs:

  • Dream and have the courage to go for what you want.
  • Don’t let fear or money hold you back. If you have a great idea, money will follow.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance you will be surprised at how willing people are to build you up.
  • Always stay true to yourself and your vision. If they don’t see it now, they will eventually.

Images: Cody Pike