PIQUANT TSHEPO MOHLALA | Flat base decoded
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Don’t be so nervous when the plans you’ve made with your life crumble all around you; not everything is meant to work out. One sure way to know if everything will work out is what you decide to do with the broken dream. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to carve out each important piece, because when it all fits together, a monstrous triumph envelopes every worry you had. And then you ask, why didn’t I just trust my instinct in the first place?
Some people don’t like different. So don’t be afraid of being different when being diverse is all that you know. There’ll always be opinions flying around, looking to confuse and leave you discouraged. What should concern you is how far you are willing to set off to gain a sense of yourself back. And thereafter, turn it all around to make your passion work for you. That is how Tshepo Mohlala’s dream unfolded – he didn’t question the journey; but rather prepared for the greatness ahead.

Tshepo Mohlala grew up at the sight of his grandmother emphasising how important family, values and image would be to him. And most importantly, she taught him how to love. “When I was growing up, my grandmother was a pastor and she always wanted us to look good when we’d go to church. Clothes helped me gain a lot of my confidence and it made it easier to approach girls. I spent most of my time looking up fashion trends and when I dressed up, people would always ask me if I was a model, so I guess that’s where it comes from.”
He dropped out twice from two separate institutions because he didn’t feel he belonged there. “I was into film when I enrolled at AFDA but I dropped out a year later and studied at the University of Johannesburg. That didn’t last long either because I also dropped out after a year. I had to make a plan about an income as I lived alone in some flat in town.”

“I attended a lot of fashion shows until I met up with Phillip Mazibuko. I introduced myself to him and we exchanged contacts. Phillip called me first and when we met again, he introduced me to the fashion industry. At that time, he was a part of House of Ole’ and they were working on celebrating ten years in the business. That’s how I got in. Through that experience, I met so many people who shared so much passion for their work and it rubbed off on me.”
Looking to gain more insight into the fashion industry, Tshepo stayed in Cape Town with a friend and explored his opportunity. “I went down to Cape Town and I worked at GQ for two weeks. When I came back to Jo’burg, I was broke and I worked at a call centre for a month until I realised that this was not meant for me. When I got paid, I left just before lunch when I got a notification message from the bank letting me know that my money came in. After that, I met up and worked with Sthembiso Mngadi from Fruitcake Vintage and The Smarteez.”

The Afrikanswiss business is a partnership between three amazing creatives; Thato Mafubelu, Vusi Dinisa and of course Tshepo. “For a while Thato wanted us to collaborate. In 2012, after years of Thato asking for us to merge the Afrikanswiss business, we met up and discussed it. We met for lunch and somehow we realised we were all wearing jeans. We knew jeans were an everyday wear and knew we could do something around that. Then and there we decided to establish a business centred on denim. A lot of designers don’t work with denim because it is a complicated material and they don’t like the hassle of it. We, on the other hand think denim is beautiful and jeans are the future.”
“Afrikanswiss is more of a protest brand. We are aware of the past, present and the future. We also know that Africa is wealthy in minerals, history culture and design. We want to show that we can do it just as well and as a sustainable business. Swiss represents the premium of the brand. We want to be the first African denim brand that succeeds in this business because we know that we’re not the first people to sell denim. But, we want to be one of the first to sell denim outfits for more than a couple of thousands.”

“We all paid our dues because before we went into business, we needed to understand the structure and its dynamics. We gained experience through the work that we’ve done and the associations we made. It’s only been a year and a half since we started the business and we’ve achieved so much through our collaboration. I believe it was a divine appointment from God because everything happened as it was meant to. We aren’t where we want to be yet – if Levis or Diesel approached and bought us out then we’d say we’ve succeeded.”
When they opened up shop, location for the business was a concern. “We didn’t consciously choose to base the shop in town on Fox street, but we took the opportunity. We settled there because the location is quite busy and a lot of people pass through the area. We're moving into our new store soon because our clientele has pressured us to change locations. Plus, we’ve outgrown the space and the demand has amplified. We have to listen to our clients.”

“The success that Afrikanswiss accumulated in such a short while granted them with an invite to Africa’s biggest fashion show, the SA Fashion Week. “Since Afrikanswiss appeared on the show, we’ve received invites to other shows, but we’ve had to turn them down because we couldn’t be involved with just any show. We have to protect the brand because of the associations we’ve made. Branding is very sensitive.”

Tshepo reckons the business wouldn’t have worked out if he’d chosen to work with other people. “I have the most honest partners. My team understands each other and we work well together. I’ve worked with other people but the connection was different. Through Afrikanswiss, we’ve created a legacy because the vision is clear. Now, future generations can take the idea and use it to their best.”
The marketing director of the denim premium brand is a persistent and determined man who can’t be convinced otherwise. “Passion, love, vision and understanding the business help me achieve all that I have and still want to do more. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. Maybe a couple of years from now something of interest will come around and I’ll get involved in that. Right now, I’m doing what makes me happy.”

An entrepreneurial artist works on instinct, skill and a bucketful of confidence – for the product and the hustle. Once you’ve got that down, do what you are drawn to because your intuition is never wrong.

Tshepo Mohlala is bold, open and surely a Piquant man and he’s never been more true to life.

“Art is creation. Without it, there’s no love. It defines the now, present and future. It is everything.”-Tshepo Mohlala

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Photography | Wiseman "Waxxy" Sedibe
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