The glitz and glamour epitomised by the fashion industry is something fashion designer Thabo Khumalo and founder of Touch of Bling fashion house, knows all too well how inaccurate it can be.
“This business is tough. You need a big heart and patience,” Khumalo says.
The industry is cut throat and fraught with challenges, says Khumalo; from designers plagiarising your work or clients who don’t pay. However, one of the biggest challenges, and one that is rarely talked about in the industry is just how hard it is to start a fashion business, and to keep your head above water even as an established player.
The business of fashion
The 27-year-old Soweto native is self-taught and funded.
“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” he says. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.”
It’s only recently that he started receiving mentorship from top industry players.
“I couldn’t make it without the assistance of people like the founder of the South African Fashion Week, Lucilla Booyzen, who opened many doors for me,” says Khumalo.
Thabo Khumalo on the runway.
“Now I’m doing an internship with Roman Handt, one of the well known local designers, learning the ins and outs of this business.”
Even for those who have been around for a long time continue to be under heavy strain having to compete with cheaper foreign brands from shops like Zara, CottonOn or TopShop, which have made genuine local brands seem unaffordable to consumers.
Just last year, Lisa Jaffe, owner of fashion label Guillotine, was quoted in the Mail and Guardian saying that it was becoming fashionable for local designers to go out of fashion.
But Khumalo is very optimistic in that he has the necessary staying fortitude to withstand the industry challenges.
Behind the creativity
Touch of Bling was founded five years ago. The brand designs urban street-inspired, high fashion menswear and womenswear, specialising in suiting fabric. Bling also designs wedding gowns, formal dresses and blazers.
Currently the business is bringing no less than R20 000 a month even though “the money is not an issue for now, but the priority is getting the brand out there”, Khumalo says.
Khumalo has taken part in numerous fashion shows such as the South African Fashion Week and dresses South African celebrities like Boity Thulo, Thapelo Mokoena, Simphiwe Dana, and many others.
“I want to inspire young people in the townships that nothing is impossible if you have a dream and determination to realise it,” he says
“I would steal my mother’s sewing machine and fabrics, and design whatever was on my mind,” he says. Khumalo adds that he would even redesign the clothes his mother bought him, and at first it wasn’t easy to convince her this is what he wanted to do for a living.
“I only took my creativity as a hobby,” he says. “I then started to read fashion magazines and watch fashion TV shows for creative ideas.”
“But when I started entering fashion competitions and receiving compliments and orders for my clothing, I saw that I could make this a successful career. My mother then started supporting,” he says.
“My biggest lessons so far about fashion is learning how to discipline himself during the creative moments, being humble, and respecting my craft and talent.”