Cape Town - Bokang Lehabe, owner of Bookha Creations, enjoys pushing fashion boundaries. His dramatic and elegant designs tell a story of an unusual and creative imagination. His latest range, titled Roots, is a combination of dense woven hessian and synthetic hair, with attention to detail.
The garments could easily work as costumes for the sci-fi film District 9 and would also fit in on a red carpet walkway. He admits some people have called the collection creepy.
“I have a very weird sense of imagination and I am a fanatic when it comes to details. I want my work to be known for its details. Everyone has an option to go to any department store and pick something off the rack, but they won’t find quality or unique detailing such as this… that is where my work comes in,” says the 24-year-old design institution Fedisa graduate.
The collection was part of his graduation showcase and featured in the debut Cape Town International Hair and Beauty Expo last month.
He tells the Cape Argus the range was partly inspired by a dear friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Born and raised in the village of Ganyesa in the North West province, Lehabe says the diagnosis came as a shock for him as breast cancer awareness campaigns didn’t reach his small town.
“It scared me because I didn’t know much about the disease. It was only when I came to a big city like Cape Town that I become aware and learnt more about cancer,” he says.
“Here there is a month that is dedicated to breast cancer, but back home you don’t even see a billboard on it.
“I decided to use my collection as also a way to raise awareness about cancer by using the hair. I thought of my mother, Lemogang Lehabe, who is in the countryside not knowing that she has to have regular mammograms, and decided to use my artistic talent to get the message across.
“The range is authentic African with Western-influenced silhouettes, because whether we like it or not, the world still influences us in many ways.
“The collection speaks to that African woman who is not afraid to celebrate her sensuality.”
Lehabe explains that his fashion path was carved in his matric year when he designed a winning school jacket for his year.
“Everyone raved about it and I came to Cape Town straight after matric to pursue my passion,” he says.
His fashion dream was derailed at first as not many people consider fashion design a career choice, Lehabe says.
“Everyone around me was either heading to Wits or UCT to study accounting or medicine. I felt pressured to do the same and applied to UCT, but January came and I knew it wasn’t for me,” he says.
After completing a marketing diploma in Boston College in 2010, he enrolled at Fedisa.
“I walked through those doors not knowing anything about sewing or designing. When they gave me a sewing machine I didn’t know what to do with it, as I grew up without having one around me,” says Lehabe.
His fashion influence comes from his mother.
“I grew up going through her wardrobe. My desire for fashion design has not always been prominent, but has been in the background. When I was growing up, I only knew for sure it’s what I wanted to do in high school,” he says.
“My mother and I have a similar kind of craziness, we just don’t buy clothes and wear them. We buy clothes and have a seamstress alter them to our liking… we both like being different.
“She is very much into African prints right now and completes her look with a headwrap – that is how on-trend she is,” says Lehabe.
His designs are also influenced by people around him and life in general, he explains.
“I was recently inspired by a traditional ceremony in the Eastern Cape. I created black and white looks from it. I can never know where exactly my next inspiration will come from, it could be from anywhere,” he says.
Lehabe also creates customised shoes to complete certain creations.
“Why create just a dress when you can sell the client an entire look? I have trained myself to go all out,” Lehabe says.
His designs are fast gaining popularity and he is now receiving orders from around the country.
“Word-of-mouth has been my biggest marketing tool.
“As a young full-time designer without any extra resources it’s not easy starting out in business. You rely on your customers to spread the word.”
Bookha Creations is for those “individuals who want to express themselves creatively and who want to flaunt their individuality and just be different from other people”, says Lehabe.
“It is worn by the artist, the blogger… that typical Capetonian kid who doesn’t want to conform to what department stores give you. When you want to take fashion risks and you don’t mind what other people say.”
Future plans for Lehabe include creating a ready-to-wear range to make his clothes more accessible to the average person, and studying overseas to gain world knowledge.
“I feel like SA is not quite ready for their youngsters who are coming out now. There are a lot of talented young designers, but not enough resources to give them support,” he says.
“Most of my friends end up moving to Johannesburg in search of better opportunities, but I feel that there is exciting stuff happening here in the fashion industry.
“I’ll stick around for a bit longer since I have already established myself here.”