Sanele Thabethe on how she created Thuso Mbedu’s ‘art piece’ using placemats

Sanele Thabethe. Picture: Supplied

Sanele Thabethe. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 8, 2022


Emmy-nominated actress Thuso Mbedu dazzled in a stunning African print ensemble by House Of Sass at the recent premiere of the blockbuster “The Woman King” in Joburg.

“The Woman King”, which made its South African debut on Friday, September 30, is an American historical epic film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 18th century.

Mbedu stars alongside Hollywood A-listers Viola Davis, John Boyega and Lashana Lynch in the film that is currently making waves globally.

Speaking with IOL Lifestyle, the House Of Sass creative director and designer Sanele “Sasa” Thabethe said designing a dress for Mzansi’s golden girl was a dream come true.

“It was such an honour having been asked by such an amazing person to make them this piece of art,” said Thabethe.

“Thuso is absolutely extraordinary and I think I could speak for all of us as a country when I express how proud we are of her accomplishments and having someone like her be of South African descent.”

Thabethe said Mbedu’s brief was clear, she wanted a design that celebrated her Zulu heritage.

“The conversation I had with Thuso went straight to her Zulu roots. The first thing she asked for was “iAfro ses’cholo” (a traditional Zulu hat made from an afro) and anything that resonates with the Zulu culture.

Thuso Mbedu’s dress in the making. Picture: Sanele Thabethe

Taking us through her creative process of designing Mbedu’s showstopper, Thabethe explained: “With that in mind, I went ahead and did some research to create a mood board and the first thing that caught my attention was a traditional isicholo.

“I suddenly had the idea of perhaps deconstructing it and making her outfit reminiscent of it as her headpiece would be a completely different version of your traditional Zulu hat.

“I gravitated towards replicating the texture of the back of isicholo as a milliner, a material I use often is a woven mat which can also be found in the form of placemats and I thought this could be the base of my whole design.

“The second aspect I focused on was ensuring that there is a repetition of the bright colours and pattern as Zulu garments generally have within the beadwork as well.

“I then went ahead and reached out to a hairstylist known for her Afro-centric hair designs by the name of Kuda (kudatot_hair) and asked her if she was up for the challenge of making this one-of-a-kind headpiece for me and she never hesitated,” added the Joburg-born star.

Thuso Mbedu’s dress in the making. Picture: Sanele Thabethe

Thabethe admitted that her biggest challenge was telling Mbedu that she would be making her dress from placemats.

“Fortunately she didn’t oppose but wanted to know how I’d make it work,” said Thabethe, in between a few chuckles.

Thuso Mbedu and John Boyega. Picture: Austin Malema, RTC Studios

At the age of 6, Thabethe was already curious about creating and designing.

“I’d ask my grandmother to show me how to stitch clothing for my Barbies and everything kind of just branched out from there.”

She started with a cake business, which funded her fashion school and helped her raise capital to invest in her fashion business.

Thabethe graduated from Villioti Fashion Institute in 2018. In December of the same year, she established House of Sass.

She has worked with local celebrities including Thando Thabethe, Khanyi Mbau, Zanele Potelwa, Ms Cosmo, Mandz Not Hot and Ayanda Ncwane. She also designed swimwear for Miss SA 2022 under Thabooty’s Underwear & Shapewear.

“House of Sass is a couture house that encompasses the epitome of art and individualism through clothing. We as a brand enjoy creating pieces that are out of the norm, sometimes avant-garde but always unique.

“We offer services of custom couture, millinery, make-up and styling.”

Thuso Mbedu. Picture: Austin Malema, RTC Studios

The 27-year is also the creative director, buyer as well as head designer for Thabooty’s Underwear & Shapewear.

“It’s definitely a job I never saw myself having, but when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands and ran with it.

“It is a job that requires you to put in 110% effort at all times which can sometimes be exhausting but is at the same time so rewarding.

“I find it so amazing that we offer something within a niche category that represents and empowers those that never felt seen in the past.

Miss South Africa 2022 Ndavi Nokeri. Picture: Supplied

Reflecting on the highlights of her career, Thabethe quipped: “I cannot believe so much time has passed already since I graduated from fashion school.

“For one, I’m already a retired baker and I do think that I reached the peak of my baking career as I never anticipated that I would’ve carried on with it for so many years.

“A few more would include designing a garment for Thuso Mbedu and getting to constantly use my sister Thando Thabethe as a muse whether it be for styling or designing.

“Working as a production stylist for BET and Honey, making fascinators for the movie How to Ruin Christmas, designing the swimwear for Miss SA 2022 as well as making Lalela’s swimsuit for Miss Supranational 2022.”

We asked Thabethe to share some of her top tips for Spring.

Shop for statement pieces with geometric prints, graffiti-like monochromatic prints, psychedelic swirls, animal prints and florals (as per usual) and pair them with simple closet classics for a sophisticated yet understated look.

Founces, flares and frills are back and they’re more colourful than ever!