LEARNING CURVE | From training sweats to Italian suits
Tailor Thando Nondlwana uses materials often imported from Italy and England for his clients’ unique style
A professional basketball player turned bespoke suit tailor, Port Elizabeth-born Thando Nondlwana, has taken the reins of the personal stylist business in the Bay, with his suits being worn by influencers across the country.
The 30-year-old started his business, Thando Nondlwana Measured to the T, in 2015.
He worked from home before moving to a shop in Pearson Street, Central – juggling both sport and his passion for fashion until finally trading his sneakers for Italian leather penny loafers early in 2018.
What inspired you to venture into designing?
I have loved fashion since I was a kid so I juggled playing basket ball and fashion.
I used to watch my father get ready for work, wearing a tie, and it instilled that classical gentleman look in me.
When you looked at him, he didn’t need to command respect, he just got it. At that time the old-timers had one big shop in PE – Croft Magill & Watson – and it’s still there. That’s where they go to for everything they wear.
When I started styling people, I thought “you know what, this is actually my calling”.
I wasn't charging at the time; people just paid for my traveling costs.
I was learning the trade and trying to understand the market I wanted to venture into. Sometimes you tend to run away from things but life shifts you back. And I decided to pursue this calling.
I worked with what my clients had in their wardrobe or sourced outfits until I got tired of sourcing and altering things because of the way they did not fit with my style of dressing. So, I decided to do my own thing. My father’s old-school style incorporated with my innovative ways of dressing and doing things became my classical vintage look.
What did you study?
I studied business management at the University of Port Elizabeth at the time. How did you learn to sew?
I grew up in a family of sewists so it was something I grew up doing but with time you always want to upgrade your skill.
Do you work on your own?
I have four people working with me. I’ve got a brilliant team. I’ve put the vision out there about what I want to do and what I want to achieve, and we work together step by step towards the goal.
How long did it take you to get the right team?
You can never say you have the right team because there is always someone out there with a lot of talent that you can rope in, especially when one of your staff members want to venture out and do their own thing.
You’re always scouting for the best, but I’m happy with my team for now.
How did you go from dressing people in close proximity to dressing someone like Mkhuseli Faku?
In this business you are your brand first before you can shape other peoples brands.
You can’t convince people to buy a Maserati while you’re driving a Tazz; you need to look the part. So people knew before I even started the business that I have good dress sense, which made it much easier for people to follow and trust what I do when I started the business.
Then I started targeting people that I believed were inline with my brand, finding out what they like what they do, so when I presented my case to them I knew exactly what to say.
Social media marketing plays a key role in promoting the brand as well. If you can get more than 120 shares, it means you’re getting into other peoples’ spaces who will then browse your page or even come and view the shop to enquire.
How long did it take for your business to be profitable?
Profit is what every business owner works for but each month is different from the other.
You need to set mid-term and annual targets as well as goals for the next five years.
Sometimes you will break even because there’s certain things that you’re looking for or a market you want to tap into, or certain people you want be aligned with and those people just don’t avail themselves – so then you need to work harder.
What’s the one thing that makes your brand unique from others?
The quality that I offer and my personalised stylistic approach, puts me two steps ahead of the game. I can safely say that I am ahead of all retail stores in Port Elizabeth when it comes to this. I get my material from around the country and most often imported from Italy and England. I’m always looking for material that I have never seen or used before.
The most important thing to me is for my clients to look unique; all the time.
What motivates you to want to create the ultimate suit?
I get difficult clients sometimes but they push me to be better. I also have clients who do not have your typical model body and projects where I have to turn someone’s look around completely drives me. And that’s what I work towards – making them happy.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?
How to create long-lasting relationships and contacts with clients. This has helped me a lot because sometimes people approach me and say, “So and so told me about you, I want to be Measured To The T".
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
People skills – always improving the organisational skills and competency. It is critical to exceed a client’s expectation. That will create a good lasting impression. It will be easy for them to introduce you to their friends for business sales.
Process management systems and operations that will give you the best outcome.
Quality product – after you have mastered the above, you will produce quality items that will meet clients’ needs and wants, thus giving customer satisfaction. He or she will always come back for more.