Pheko sisters head for global catwalk

HISTORIANS have used fashion design as a way of helping others to determine the social and cultural values of certain communities in history.

It is against this background that economic and political analyst Mohau Pheko and her sister Liepollo Pheko started Boho Chic, a fashion label aimed at helping young and poor girls.

They became fashion designers by default after a disturbing discovery. They found out that many girls did not go to school at all when they had their periods because they could not afford sanitary pads. So they decided to form a girls' network and started collecting pads and took them to poor schools.

Mohao says it was shocking to know that a lot of women did not know that many girls were missing classes when they were "unwell".

"While we were busy with this we met a woman who was making clothing from natural fibres. We partnered with her and made clothes by fusing natural fibres with African fabrics to raise funds for the pads. We auctioned the pieces to make money for pads."

After receiving rave reviews from friends they decided to start a clothing range.

"We use natural fibres and recycled clothes to create very distinct and personalised outfits.

"We also have a skatana swop club where a group of friends bring their old clothes and we recycle."

The struggle sisters say Boho Chic is feminine, free, elegant, stylish, very comfortable and not limiting.

"Our line is the personification of modernity, sensuality and liberation in humanity. These characteristics are the inspiration for each one of our collections."

Mohau adds that women have always inspired them to create.

"When it comes to women we understand their essence and our designs allow her to make history."

Born in Dobsonville, Soweto, in 1959, Mohau was educated in Zambia and Kenya. She grew up in the politically and socially pluralistic environment of an exile village in Tshitepo, Zambia.

Mohau says they are inspired by their mother and the vibrancy of African places they have lived in.

Liepollo Pheko is a policy and advocate director at the Johannesburg-based gender group The Trade Collective and a social entrepreneur.

"Our mother is the pillar of our family. She is the one who encourages us to reach for higher goals. She taught us that all things are possible if we believe," says the daughter of the former PAC president Dr Motsoko Pheko.

About her designs she says they are wearable clothes with sneakers or heels.

"We make clothes for a liberated mind that is not imprisoned by certain trends. For us this is not aimed at making money for ourselves but for helping the poor while being involved in what we love best."

For now the Pheko sisters work out of the back of the garage but want their line to come out of the shadows and onto the catwalk.

Mohau says they will show at the Swahili Fashion Week taking place in Tanzania from November 4 to 6.

This fashion event is on par with globally acclaimed fashion weeks celebrating what makes Africa beautiful.

"We also aspire to show at the Cape Town Fashion Week. Our aim is to eventually open a boutique and create more employment for our people."

The name Boho Chic draws inspiration from the style that has various bohemian and hippie influences, that, at its height in 2004-5, was associated particularly with actress Sienna Miller and model Kate Moss in the United Kingdom and Mary-Kate, Ashley Olsen and Nicole Richie in the United States.

This trend, which had been going on since late 2000, appeared to be on the wane by early last year, but some elements were evident again in 2010.

What does Mohau think about African fashion?

"African fashion is among the richest, most diverse and attention grabbing in the world.

"The top fashion houses are increasingly embracing African influences, and are making names for themselves internationally," she says.