A fashionista with panache

LEGENDARY fashion designer Coco Chanel once said that she liked "fashion to go down to the street", but she "can't accept it should originate there".

Chanel obviously did not know Pfadzani "Exodus" Mphanama.

Five years ago the chemical engineer-turned fashion designer ventured into fashion after a fallout with her bosses. After her contract had expired she worked for a television-production company. In 2006 she left to launch her own company, Huyu Houz.

She was going to design T-shirts with pictures of famous personalities, but that concept failed. She started designing clothes and tried to sell them to retailers, but was told to build her brand first.

Last year she opened a sleek boutique called Exodus in The Zone in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

"I always wanted to open an African brand at Rosebank Mall. I loved the idea of African glamour and glitter the African way," Mphanama says.

Her range includes trendy designer clothes, pictured, for both sexes. Her line is corporate and semi-casual.

Mphanama says she designs for people of all races, people who are independent, who like to socialise and show off style.

She says she never thought of becoming a fashion designer.

"I loved to draw, but as a child I wanted to be an engineer. I've loved glamour ever since watching stars walk down the red carpet in stunning gowns."

She says her shop attracts customers from diverse backgrounds.

"I want to be different from other boutiques, especially those at this mall, by selling quality merchandise sourced locally and internationally."

She says things have not been easy.

"At times I went to bed without food. It was difficult to get funders."

Mphanama says she has not broken even in her business yet, but she hopes she will get there soon.

Last year sheworked briefly as a waitress and used the money to buy fabric to make samples she took along when motivating for funding.

Umsobomvu Youth Fund helped her to formulate a business plan. Then she approached the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) for funding.

The NEF provided her with a mentor, but Mphanama says that the mentor was never there for her.

"He never consulted me. NEF then froze my funds and my bank account."

Despite all the hardships, Mphanama says she is determined to succeed.

"I will hold on and this brand will go places."