Swagger that he’s earned
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Cape Town - Mzukisi Mbane learnt to make clothes with his mother Ethel’s sewing machine.
From his family home in Khayelitsha he began his fashion label, Swagger Diariez, which later evolved into the label Imprint. He still produces his ranges from there.
This weekend, his clothes will be on the ramp as a first-timer at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town, not bad for a person who trained in accounting and has just left full-time work at the City of Cape Town.
He tells people he is a businessman in the fashion industry. Mbane has self-funded his participation at the fashion week, having not come through any development programmes or initiatives.
Ethel Mbane’s manual sewing machine sat in the kitchen of the Mbane home, inspiring and intriguing him. Mbane says his interest in fashion started in his childhood, in spite of a fear of needles.
“It did exist, but it was not dominant. My mum’s sewing machine was there all the time but I was scared of being poked by needles. I’ve always liked fabric,” he says.
We meet in a boardroom of the Cape Town Fashion Council. He is in the process of fitting a suit while telling us his story.
Since commandeering his mother’s sewing machine in 2011, he has upgraded to a little fleet of industrial sewing machines in a studio space in his home. “I don’t hate sewing; this is how I fell in love with fashion, by sewing. My first samples must be from my hands.”
Mbane entered the world of finance studies as a BComm Accounting student at UWC after matric. “It was a very automatic choice. I had a bursary from the City of Cape Town and it was very clear. I didn’t look into my passion for fashion that way.”
In his final year in 2010, he dropped out of UWC, needing time to find his inner fashionista and explore that. While working on his fashion plans, he went back to his studies in 2011 at Unisa.
“I always knew that education is the key to everything. I had to work for the City of Cape Town (because of the bursary). They called me up and I did two months there. It was interesting,” he laughs and then returned to studying and fixing his design. “I’ve found myself now. I can do my own books. I am a businessman in the fashion industry.”
He started his experiments in design with no experience or training and the results spoke of that. “This was a risk I decided to take. My first few items looked weird. I had no pattern-cutting skills, everything was raw. It was a mess. ”
The first brand, Swagger Diariez ,was inspired by Mbane’s icon, Kanye West. “Swagger is your identity and a diary is your innermost thoughts. My clothes are not ordinary.”
This is true. He does the interview in a printed jacket with a collar that extends into a strip of fabric wrapped around his neck. This is a man who is also big on prints.
Imprint came about with a need to create more formal looks, moving away from street wear to the smarter looks of men’s suits.
“Imprint is more formal. These brands are my stories. Swagger Diariez made sense at the time. Now in Imprint I have pieces you can convert into work wear.”
Mbane has been working fashion week internships since 2012 and during this year showed at both editions of the first SA Menswear Weeks. He’s made the transition from intern to ramp designer and has to turn out a full range for this week.
He is sending 16 womenswear looks down the ramp, bordered by two menswear looks. He’s revealed his menswear looks will feature oversized coats and that he will have swimwear and ’60s-inspired looks.
Almost every runway show at fashion weeks end with the designers walking out on to the ramp, sometimes presented with a bunch of flowers. “That’s my moment to take everything in. When I step out, that is the moment I will see the approval of the brand. Sometimes I feel I’ve already earned that.”