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‘Watching the South African Olympics team wearing my designs at the opening ceremony in London is definitely going to be one of the proudest moments of my life,” says Leigh Schubert. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
And so she should. Being invited to submit designs by the SA Sports Commission and Olympic Committee was one thing, but when she got the call last month to say South Africans had voted her designs the top ones in the country, Schubert was ecstatic.
We’re having a quick lunch across the road from her |Glenashley studio and I notice diners and staff smiling at her. It’s not just because she stands out in a crowd, thanks to her innate sense of style, but because she’s so animated and passionate about everything she does – and she’s not afraid to articulate it.
Schubert did her Olympics homework and found that a lot of the teams who dressed more casually ended up looking like farmers, while those dressed more smartly resembled lawn bowls players or air stewards.
“The South African flag was my reference point, but I also didn’t want to go too traditional, so I decided on black jeans with a colour-block knit top,” she says.
“The men’s tops are asymmetrical golfers, and the women’s have a high collar. Looking at pictures from previous Olympics, I realised the teams wave a lot, so I focused on the design on the arms.”
Schubert’s experience with the commercial ready-to-wear market, as opposed to the more avant garde, clearly worked in her favour, resulting in designs that are accessible, but unique.
“Remembering how the Crocs didn’t go down well last time, I used Converse takkies for shoes – it’s such a strong brand in Africa, and it adds a little sense of humour with the dancing shoe vibe.”
More good news is that Schubert is manufacturing the tops in Durban and SA’s Loxion Culture is making the shoes.
“I was given the final go-ahead to manufacture the tops – all 400 of them – last Thursday, and they have to be ready to be delivered on July 13, so it has all been very stressful, but also very exciting.”
Since she will be joining the SA team at the opening ceremony, Schubert had to move her slot at Cape Town Fashion Week to July 26. “I’m on at 5pm, and then have to dash to the airport for an 8.15pm flight to London. And then it’s straight off to the ceremony.”
Schubert knew fashion was her calling when she started dressing her Barbie dolls. With no doubts about her career, she completed her matric at a Joburg technical college, excelling in fashion design.
“I was 17 and all I wanted to do was come home and study at (Durban University of Technology),” she says.
“I had been accepted and had gone to registration, only to find I needed my matric certificate, which hadn’t been issued with yet.
“So I did the rebel thing and used the registration money to move into a commune.”
Schubert got a job as a waitress, and 18 months later landed a job with clothing manufacturer Ninian and Lester.
Thanks to her seniors being snapped up by Mr Price, which had just entered the market, Schubert quickly climbed the ranks from designer to merchandiser at 22.
“It was amazing… the overseas buying trips were an incredible way to see the world. In one trip we’d go to Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Miami and Los Angeles.”
With the clothing industry under pressure from imports, Schubert moved to Mr Price as a buyer, gaining valuable experience in the retail world. Having fared well in young designer fashion competitions, Schubert was invited to show a range at the 2002 Mercury Durban Designer Collection.
Steering away from a traditional interpretation of the theme “Africa Awake”, she presented an all-white range that won her the top spot.
Today, Schubert has a signature boutique in Marriott Road and a strong presence in The Space stores and other boutiques around the country.
Her garments are on sale in Australia and the US, and she has plans to grow the export side of her business.
Meanwhile, she’s looking forward to the Olympics and a January wedding in Franschhoek to her beau, Brendon Taljaard – the perfect way to end an awesome year.