Fashion for real women

SOBER creator Tshepo Mafokwane treads the glamorous fashion world but with a natural irreverence that reflects common sense rather than confusion and chaos.

The name "Sober" defines it all. It is a state of mind, clear-headed.

"It is a state that I experienced when I re-identified myself in terms of creating my own design style. The name also denotes the styling of the clothing - careful and considered detail. We always strive to design clothes which are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing," says Mafokwane.

A typical Sober creation is uniquely outstanding because Mafokwane incorporates illustration and fashion together, predominantly through hand-drawing her artwork into the clothing.

The designer, who holds a BTech in Fashion Designing from the Tshwane University of Technology, says she designs for the woman who is easygoing, stylish, subtle and personable, and who does not want to stand out because of what she is wearing, but because of her quiet confidence.

Design caught up with Mofokwane when she was a young girl living with her grandmother, who was a seamstress.

"Though I had never done art or home economics at school, most people were not too surprised when I wanted to pursue a career in fashion design. Aside from my interest in art and fashion, I drew quite well and had a grandmother who loved sewing. She raised me until I started primary school."

Mafokwane is building a brand that is synonymous with a contemporary lifestyle filled with creativity, entrepreneurship and goodwill.

It is hard not be blown away by her achievements. Starting off as a designer for men, she now supplies stores, including Salvation at Menlyn Park, Pretoria, Burgundy Fly at Maponya Mall in Soweto, and Sisters at Hemingway Shopping Centre in East London.

"Sober is a bulk production oriented business. I sell a range seasonally to small boutiques and I oversee and manage all aspects of the production and liaise with prospective boutiques," she says.

She says that in most cases large retail outlets spend too much money testing and sourcing trend items, these being mainly European and mainstream.

She adds that often these trends are sporadic and abrupt and do not always gain full acceptance in our market. Smaller clothing manufacturers, on the other hand, have the advantage to serve a niche market.

"Sober has found an exclusive approach to capture a diverse market. Research shows that consumers are inclined to spend up to three times more on a fashion item than on a basic one," she says.

Mafokwane says that she sees Sober eventually growing into a recognisable brand, while bringing extensive expertise associated with comprehensive product development, marketing and manufacturing controls.

"Though the brand will be run at a manageable scale in order to gain an identity and competitor advantage, long-term goals include supplying to major chainstores throughout the country."

Mafokwane says her label has not only exposed customers to quality fashion, but has also provided employment to a handful of people. Her production team comprises multi-skilled and trained machinists, a quality controller, designers and a creative director.

The company's output rate ranges from 25 to 40 garments a week.

She says her creations are all about accentuating the positive and playing down the negative.

"My designs are made with real life women in mind. Women who might have a few lumps to hide, but still want to look sexy and stylish," says the 30-year-old.

The designer has shown her collections in several fashion events, including Menswear Group of South Africa, Annual Competition and Nederburg South African, Rare Fashion Finds, among others.

Mafokwane was selected by Marie-Claire magazine as one of the South African designers sponsored to showcase a range as part of the 2006 Nokia Cape Town Fashion Week Design Nouveau Collections.

What inspires her?

"My inspiration is taken from all around the world and fused to form a look that is accommodating, eclectic and versatile," she says.