INNOVATIVE: Rubicon Clothing founder Hangwani Nengovhela in her studio, where she creates the styles that celebrities have come to love. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA)

It’s only a week before the Vodacom Durban July and already the world of haute couture is abuzz with A-listers jostling for the most exclusive garment they can lay their hands on. Rubicon Clothing in Ferndale, Joburg, is a fishing ground for stars, businesswomen and celebrities seeking hand-crafted items. Although small and located in a rundown industrial area, the haute couture studio has produced and clothed some of the top celebs, most recently Basetsana Kumalo.
Rubicon founder Hangwani Nengovhela has been running the tight and efficient ship since 2002. In the days of cheap Chinese fabrics and fast-fading fashion fads, it’s a miracle that there is high-quality clothing still being made by hand.

“When you run a haute couture, you have to sell experience. Everything is crafted and made to the satisfaction of the client. This takes a while to finish and requires passion and commitment.

“I am blessed with long-term and committed employees,” says Nengovhela, revealing ironically that she has a qualification in textile and clothing techniques from the Minjiang University in China.

“In China, they really know how to cut costs by also using cheap labour. But here we don’t cut corners and our clientele expect the best from us, hence our products don’t come cheap.”

INNOVATIVE: Rubicon Clothing founder Hangwani Nengovhela in her studio. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA)

Rubicon is also accredited with the fibre processing and manufacturing Seta and they do learnerships and skill programmes.

Nengovhela, who won a Mbokodo Awards 2015 accolade in Fashion Design and Innovation, is passionate about learnership programmes for the youth and unemployed.

She has just completed one in Pretoria and one in Venda and was in the process of placing the learners in small businesses across the country.

Rubicon’s vision is to help the country produce its own clothing and that starts with basic skills such as teaching the youth how to make a garment.

This has the potential of creating millions of jobs in a country where the bulk of clothing, including for the defence force, nurses and police, worth more than R10billion, is made in China.

“We have a buy-in from some of the skills funds in that they will support us in the current financial year and the number has to grow in essence.

“We need to move towards 10000 fully industrialised skilled people. We are going all out to talk to government institutions.

“We need to produce things that will sustain us locally. Where do we start? With a one-stop shop. In Gauteng, we have trained 200 people and we are keeping a database and monitoring those we have skilled.

“We have registered a Rubicon corporative with a mandate to focus on identifying youth with clothing skills because we have the know how.”

A few interns are visible at Rubicon trying not to get in the way of Nengovhela and her staff of creatives as they try to deal with their job of kitting clients, some of whom are coming in droves for their Durban July outfits. There is also work in the wings for a major retail store.

A professional who had just got off a plane from France, I am told, pops in for a fitting.

Then a well-known wedding planner also walks in, as does a bubbly youngster with blonde dreadlocks, who greets and then shrieks in excitement after collecting her garment.

The phones keep ringing, more appointments. Material is brought to Nengovhela for approval.

Then it is the turn of Sindi Mdakane who introduces herself as a “self-employed businesswoman” to fit her red dress. Mdakane graciously snuggles into the dress with petals that must have set her back by at least five grand.

Nengovhela is quick to point out that she is inspired by nature and that for her the petals represent leaves. The “leaves” are cut and individually placed on the cloth. This is time-consuming work.

Then a seamstress, a guy in a white dust coat, is summoned to fix a slit that is “puckering”. He loosens the lining and the problem is fixed.

“Wear the dress with nude shoes,” advises Nengovhela as she heads downstairs again to deal with another waiting customer.

The Sunday Independent