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Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana: Clothes for the bold and brave

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Award-winning fashion designer and owner of a leading women’s wear label, Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana, has been living up to the meaning of her first name: joy. 

Not even our terrible cellphone  connection, due to Eskom and its load-shedding, gets her down.

Every time our call gets cut we reconnect and she happily picks up where we left off. Eventually, I suggest she sends me voice notes to the remainder of the questions I have and she gladly agrees.

The label, which bears her name Thabo Makhetha, lives up to her name too.

“My grandmother Dikeledi was a seamstress. She passed away when I was three but a lot of people say the gift was from her, which is why I became interested in sewing and making beautiful things,” says the 36-year-old. 

Despite having parents who were engineers, Makhetha never struggled to convince them going into design was not merely a childhood fantasy. 

“The conversation with my mother was a lot easier because she had seen that her mother was able to make a living off being a seamstress,” she tells me. 

“So, for some time, it was between fine art and fashion and she said to me, ‘No, people need clothes and not a painting on their wall.’” She laughs at the memory.

Makhetha is a religious person. 

“I grew up in a Christian home and we would go to prayer. 

“I remember a lady praying over me and telling my parents, ‘This child is going to do amazing things with her hands one day.’” 

And she did. 

In 2009, Makhetha established her Thabo Makhetha brand, which has positioned itself at the forefront of African luxury fashion. 

“How it all started was that I was creating a garment for myself for the Durban July at the time and the theme was royalty. 

“And I remember being told that we are royalty and I told myself that I want to go as a Basotho princess.” 

She knew people were going to come in their finest British royal outfits and she would stand out in her Basotho garments.  

She believes her label is for people who feel the same way. 

“My brand is definitely for that woman — she travels and she wants to stand out in a room. So, I make clothes for very bold individuals.”  

Makhetha mentions that her clothes have received a positive response from the international community. In 2013 she showcased them at Vancouver Fashion Week, in Canada, which, ironically, boosted her brand locally. 

Up until that point, she had not been able to participate in any local fashion weeks. That changed it all.

The brand has been featured in Vogue and Elle and Makhetha made it onto Beyoncé’s list of top designers for her visual album Black is King.

Makhetha is preparing for South African Fashion Week with a collection made from a new fabric.

“It is a textile woven in Cape Town, so it is a 100% South African-made product. 

“But I am still talking about the stories and the heritage of the Basotho people as well as my personal story that is interwoven in it, my perspective as a mother and a woman.” 

She has faced criticism for using the Basotho blanket as the foundation of her garments. 

However, she says that she used it as a lesson and, had she dwelled on the attacks, Thabo Makhetha would not be in existence. 

Makhetha hopes up-and-coming fashion designers are as bold as she is — bold enough to add culture and heritage to their garments. 

“Your blessings are in your movement. If you stand in one place, doors won’t open for you. So go for it.”

Award-winning fashion designer blends heritage and luxury to redefine African couture on the global stage