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Hats off to SA's fashion mentors

Thabo Mailula, right, poses with his mentor and renowned designer Ephraim Molingoana. / KABELO MOKOENA
Thabo Mailula, right, poses with his mentor and renowned designer Ephraim Molingoana. / KABELO MOKOENA

In a 2011 interview on her Oprah Masterclass show, talk show legend Oprah Winfrey said that the most profound words she learned from her spirit mother, Maya Angelou were: "When you get, give and when you learn, teach."

These words certainly resonate with legendary fashion designers we spoke to who chose to share their talents, resources and time with upcoming designers they mentored.

In the dog-eat-dog fashion industry, it is commendable that these designers chose to be selfless and mentor others who then went on to do great things in the industry.

We pay homage to these designers and their mentors.

Palesa Mokubung and Sello Medupe

Palesa Mokubung, whose label Mantsho is synonymous with afro chic, says that she is very proud of Sello Medupe, who she says she had a "run in" with back in the day when Medupe was still a budding fashion student.

Although a lot of people are not aware that Mokubung mentored the successful Medupe, whose own fashion label Scalo is making waves in the industry and has seen him dressing celebrity A-listers, Mokubung says she does not like to put that fact out there.

"Usually people like to be given props or accolades for having mentored someone who went on to be successful in their own right, but when it comes to Sello, I don't want any credit. I just want to let him know that I am very proud of him and that he needs to continue doing what he does best," she says.

Medupe says he met Mokubung when he was in Grade 11. He approached her with his sketches, which impressed her.

"She taught me a lot, especially when it comes to pattern cutting. She was really down to earth and I am thankful that she took me under her wing," he says.

Sun Goddess and Kea Matseke

Sun Goddess is a fashion label that we have all come to love and respect for introducing us to traditional wear with a twist, making it high fashion and ready to wear.

Anyone would be honoured to work with the husband-and-wife duo behind the label, Thando and Vanya Mangaliso, and this is something that fashion designer Kea Matseke is proud of.

Vanya says they met Matseke back in 2005.

"She had a style edge which made her stand out. Her sketches and illustrations were strong and refreshing; she drew these glamorous warrior goddesses who showed strength exuding heroism.

"She was a keen learner with great taste, which meant she could be thrown in the deep end often.

"Most memorable was when we put her in charge of the Singangore Fashion Week Sun Goddess Collection, hardly six months into the job. She had to oversee the collection, travel logistics and everything else, and she pulled it off. She was also put in charge as my personal stylist for all public appearances as she just got it!

Vanya says she would like to congratulate Matseke on all her achievements since.

"I am proud of her achievements firstly, and would like to wish her the best going forward. I would like for her to always remember that she is the strong heroic goddess I saw in her illustrations."

Matseke says that working at Sun Goddess was very stressful but the experience was invaluable.

"I was taught a lot about business acumen and they trusted us to do things we had never done before.

"We were tested a lot and it was a very big leaning experience. We got a lot of exposure in terms of travelling and ultimately, working with them was like working with family," she says.

Matseke has since gone on to be a senior buyer for Edcon and was even a fashion coordinator for Marie Claire. She launched her own tailoring brand for menswear, Kongo Bravo, and says is now venturing into women's wear.

Ephraim Molingoana and Thabo Mailula

Ephraim Molingoana is one of the pioneers of elegant menswear and when he decided to take on a protege Thabo Mailula, under his wing, he sowed the seed that would ultimately bloom into a remarkable fashion designer.

"I met Thabo about three years ago. He was just raw and craving for knowledge. He was actually recommended to me by Uyanda Mbuli. We took him immediately and started by letting him come for observation first, took him to shoots and I taught him about styling for big magazines as well as pattern cutting and sewing.

Molingoana says that he is proud of Mailula, but wants him to stay grounded.

Mailula says that he is forever grateful to Molingoana who took him in when he did not have the finance to study fashion design.

"At first I was intimidated by his presence. He is a true professional and wants the best out of everyone. I was also fascinated by how he sees fabric, clothing, garments as well as his impeccable knowledge of the fashion history. He also has a eye for predicting trends and how to handle different kinds of clients."

Mailula has gone on to start his own clothing brand called Black Noise Clothing and has dressed artists, styled various music videos and has a fashion blog in Kas'lam magazine.

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