FASHION designer Thokozani Freedom Mbatha's creations are a little, shall we say, odd? But then again, sometimes fashion doesn't make sense to people in the "real world".

Though Mbatha's Black Pepper label has a different look, it maintains a chic, classy look that is a fusion of laid-back traditional aesthetic and edgy, downtown street style.

His vibrant creations are inspired by the Nguni tribe, blending imagery of East African safaris and powerful Zulu colours. As far as fabrics go, while he is concerned with modernity, he mixes linen, denim and cotton. The juxtaposition of ideas mirror his life experiences and background.

Mbatha recently debuted his eponymous line at the third edition of the L'Afrique est à la Mode competition where he scooped the Gold String, which is first prize.

The competition took place within the framework of the International Festival of African Fashion early this month in Niamey in Niger. The event was organised by the Africa and Caribbean creative arts department at Culturesfrance.

The competition is aimed at promoting young African designers and to give them exposure to the international fashion industry.

Mbatha was one of 10 young designers chosen in Africa.

Competitors had to be between 18 and 35 years old. After a long judging process, the competitors were selected by application to showcase 10 garments of prêt-à-porter or haute couture.

As part of his prize, Mbatha has received financial support for the creation of a fashion studio and a new collection as well as an internship at a fashion house of his choice in France.

"I am very excited about this opportunity," he said. " It will definitely open doors for me. I am so thankful to the French Institute of South Africa for this opportunity. It is every designer's dream to work for a fashion house in Paris."

Asked which fashion house he is going to work with he said he would chose between Lanvin and Emanuel Ungaro.

"I have not decided who I want to work with between these two designers.

They are both very big and they are making it hard for me to decide," he says.

Mbatha's journey to success started with the highly talented and renowned South African designers Amanda Laird Cherry and Dennis Manthata.

He has also showcased at numerous fashion shows in the country, including Tribute magazine's Annual Fashion Show in Johannesburg 2000, Miss Soweto 2003, South African Fashion Week 2003-04, Durban Fashion Week 2006-07 and ICC Durban Umsobomvu Youth Entrepreneurs Project 2007.

He was also the first black fashion designer to be invited to the Durban Art Gallery in May 2000.

With this impressive CV, Mbatha decided to take the big step towards starting his own brand.

"I started my company with the view to creating jobs in the fashion industry. Fashion is a highly competitive industry. It is so difficult to stand up and be counted, especially when you come from a deprived background," Mbatha says.

He says when he returns from France he hopes to open boutiques in South Africa's big cities.

"I want to create as many jobs as I can to help young designers."