Tshepo Mohlala started his brand Tshepo The Jeanmaker with an R8 000 loan from a friend and turned it into an international business enterprise. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - A young  businessman has proved that one does not need moneybags start a good brand but a solid business plan. 

Tshepo Mohlala started his brand Tshepo The Jeanmaker with an R8 000 loan from a friend and turned it into an international business enterprise.  Mohlala says the brand has now attracted the attention of a host of celebrities, renowned entrepreneurs, musicians and artists, among others.

He says the custom-made jeans recently created a storm on social media when he revealed that a pair cost R950.  Mohlala says his clients are across South Africa, Africa, China and the United States.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur from Tsakane, east of Johannesburg, says the township inspired him to dream big because of its dire socio-economic condition.  After matriculating from Brakpan High School in 2009, Mohlala enrolled at leading film school Afda with hopes of becoming a cinematographer. 

“I saw myself being the biggest director of photography in the world but during the duration of the course I realised that I was in a wrong place,” he recalls.

“I was more inclined to fashion and I liked attending fashion shows.” 

He says he had an honest discussion with himself and decided to go study fashion design at the University of Johannesburg.  He however dropped in his second year as he could not afford tuition fees.  This led him to explore high-end street fashion jeans with friends. 

But they soon had a fallout over the creative direction the company was taking.   “I left because the vision was no longer the same, especially when the money started flowing in.”

Mohlala then took to social media throwing hints that something big was coming. “I was frustrated, I was angry and I had no money,” he says, recalling events leading to the eminent launch of his company. 

A friend saw where his heart was and loaned him R8 000 to start Tshepo The Jeanmaker in 2015.

He worked from a small factory with limited resources. “We had four machines, two straight machines, a double stitch needle and a small cutting table,” he recalls vividly, in between attending to potential clients popping inside the store and wanting some of his already divided attention. 

With the minimal resources in place, Mohlala says the company created its first pair of jeans which he dubbed The Presidential Slim Fit. 

However, only 100 pairs were made and it took the budding entrepreneur six full months to sell them all. 

“It was so difficult to convert the social media hype to sales,” he says, adding however, that the brand slowly gained momentum and traction and was soon on everyone’s lips, thanks to social media.

Mohlala then started doing collaborations with The Threaded Man, a leading online portal for the modern African man, custom bicycle manufacturers Fixin Diaries, and with J&B Hive.

“These collaborations helped us to push our brand to the next level. And financially we were starting to make business sense,” says Mohlala, who was raised by a single mother.

Among his top clients are Donovan Goliath, rappers Khuli Chana and Stogie T, renowned controversial artist Ayanda Mabulu, DJ Oskido and even Nando’s co-founder Robert Brozin. 

“All our clients are people with influence, people who have broken different boundaries in different spaces,” he says. “They are lawyers, doctors, businessmen, celebrities, DJs and artists.” 

Mohala reveals that he has been approached by a number of reputable retailers including The Foschini Group to partner with them. He says Tshepo The Jeanmaker is taking its time and is not in a hurry to enter into such partnerships.

“We could easily distribute our brand in South Africa with the right retailer, but I’m also building a name here. Such partnerships, if not thoroughly thought out, could easily drown my name.” 

He adds, however, that plans are already afoot to expand their footprint into the New York City borough of Manhattan and Los Angeles, the second-most populous city in the US. 

Mohlala says he also wants to see his denim brand setting up shop in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

“We have solid plans of increasing our distribution channels but we want to do it right. Our brand is premium yet affordable.” 

Mohlala says in the next three to five years they plan to expand the company’s product range to include jackets, t-shirts, shirts and everything in between.

“We want to see a lot of South Africans wearing this brand with pride and to create more beautiful moments.” 

When asked what his last thoughts are, Mohlala says: “What I have learnt throughout these years is that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to start a good brand.”