A Zwide fashion designer has gone from poverty to rubbing shoulders with well-established designers on national television.
Mawande Kweyi, 33, has had the opportunity to compete on Raw Silk, a new fashion reality show hosted by Pearl Modiadie on SABC 1.
“I’ve learned that in life you need to seize every opportunity given to you,” he said of the experience.
Airing every Tuesday at 9pm, the show follows 13 fashion designers as they work their hardest to put their fabric where their mouth is, and one designer is eliminated with each passing episode.
Self-taught fashion and footwear designer Kweyi was eliminated on the fourth episode of the show with two designers eliminated before him.
“The show was a perfect opportunity to learn more about design from other designers and it was my first time engaging with qualified designers. Not only that but the experience of being mentored by world renowned tailor Olé Ledimo and to rub shoulders with established designers,” Kweyi said.
Originally from Mdantsane, Kweyi has had a long journey to becoming a professional designer. Having grown up in a financially unstable home where he had to walk more than 3km to get to school, he dropped out of school after repeating Grade 11 and failing matric.
Even though his family could barely afford to give him lunch money, Kweyi developed an interest in fashion brands in high school although he often had to settle for what he could get.
“I had to get cheap shoes and fake brands. I remember I once had a fake Adidas school bag. Instead of Adidas it was written Didibao, I got teased about it and my friends started calling me Dadobawo,” said the father of one.
He started teaching himself how to make clothes using his mother’s sewing machine and the first item he made was a denim wallet for himself.
After years of moving back and forth, trying to find his feet in the fashion industry, Kweyi found a niche making matric dance dresses in Port Elizabeth.
“I love evening wear and it helps that there is a big market for it.”
Kweyi found out about Raw Silk from Facebook and he decided to give it a try, making it to the top 13. Although he had hoped – and expected – to make it further than he did, he did achieve some of his goals.
“I was in it for the experience so every moment I was in the show was an opportunity to learn. The best moment [was] actually being on the show; it just confirmed to me that it doesn’t matter where you come from [or] how much you have, God has a plan and purpose for everyone and we are all good enough,” he said.
Kweyi draws inspiration from Port Elizabeth-born international designer Laduma Ngxokolo.
“I take pride in people of humble beginnings who are relatable and not pompous about their achievements but rather seek to raise other hopefuls.”
Kweyi plans to establish his own footwear label and build a sustainable business.