Working his way up the fashion ladder quickly and by no means quietly, turning heads with his infectious artistic energy along the way, is proudly South African fashion designer and artist, Lesiba Mabitsela.
Shuttling between Cape Town & Johannesburg, the 26-year-old takes on a modern approach to African attire and identity. With reoccurring themes of futuristic Africa, humility vs poverty and culture vs religion in his work, art allows Lesiba to address issues he is faced with every day.
He believes there is so much power in the act of observing & listening. He tells me his latest range came about through his days working in Cape Town’s St. Georges Mall.
He said: “I would hear stories of breaking fast during Ramadan, re-imagining the blankets that the "Bergies", which is not meant in the derogatory tone, wrap themselves in as high fashion and reinstating the pride in culture against the modern world much like the Eastern Cape & Lesotho do, this was all new to me upon arriving in Cape Town.
“Fashion is not an easy path to follow and doesn't yield financial success immediately, which can be testing for a youngster like myself. Another challenge comes in separating the art from design as the line can get blurred if not monitored.
“It’s all worth it in the end though when a balanced yet unique collection is pulled off or an observer is moved by a piece that was made to address pressing issues in society.”
Despite the influence of age and sport, Lesiba’s childhood ambition to become Ridge Forrester from "The Bold & the Beautiful" (a smash hit soap opera based on a fashion house business) has never really faded away.
Fresh from Tshwane University, the fashion design and technology graduate was guided into the industry by Lucy Anastasiadis, who was the first to give him a chance at St. Lorient Fashion & Art gallery, and while in Cape Town he became the protégé of fashion extraordinaire Gavin Rajah.
Lesiba worked under the wing of these industry experts as a junior designer collectively for six years following his varsity days, where he placed top ten for two national competitions, NO-Kak 2007 and Bridal Africa 2008.
Since then it has been a whirlwind for the emerging creative. Last year his collaborative exhibition “Demonstrations: Being Black”, curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa, showcased at the Brundyn+Gonsalves Contemporary and this year his exhibition curated by Abdul Dube, called “Movement”, was exhibited at Woodstock.
He added: “Twenty fourteen has been good to me with an exhibit at this year’s Design Indaba. I've also been chosen as one of eight winners of the Samsung Inspire Design competition as well as being included as one of fifteen artists to take part in the OPENLab2014 residency in Bloemfontein and Richmond.
“As If that wasn't enough I've recently been invited to take part in Vancouver Fashion week, which I'm currently looking for funding to take part, so if there is any interested parties then that would be a god send.”
Lesiba feels a sense of responsibility to use his craft to tackle social issues as he quickly realised there isn't a lot of others willing to speak out. “We were all given talents, what's the use of them if not done for good,” he added.
When I asked the noble creative how Africa affects his work he said he felt frustrated at seeing so much unrealised potential, techniques and cultures. What disturbs him the most is that many of these influences are taken at face value when there is something deeper to explore.
“I've tried to re-imagine a new Africa, people that have been downtrodden for centuries, stripped of their culture & fed foreign religion instead. Majority of Africans have had to make do with the little that they "appear" to possess. Creating a brand that celebrates a positive African lifestyle can do wonders for the people.
“Africa is starting to be a little brand conscious & recognise the commercial value in that, which helps South Africa's need for small business. The government could actually do more to help, there are too many designers holding other part time jobs just to make rent. In the end the business suffers when one is overworked.
“It isn't all so bad though as we are understanding the importance of culture, I'm seeing bead work inspired knitwear & wooden bags. So creativity has definitely become home grown.”
While Lesiba is still relatively new in the fierce and fabulous world of fashion he has already achieved more than most would in a lifetime and considers his biggest achievement so far to be leaving societies safety net and becoming his own man.
The biggest piece of advice he would give to other starters in his field, as cliché as it might sound he said, is you can never ever stop learning.
“Having good friends around you can take you far, they can push you in times of self-doubt. I'm generally not one that likes to compare my products to others but the only thing that I can say is that a lot of thought goes into everything I do.”
In terms of his futuristic vision Lesiba is trying to keep things simple. “I have a fixation with raw energy so keeping things basic can make things uncomplicated but at times unpredictable,” he explains. “So one never knows & that's the best place to be really, being creatively free I mean.”
When he’s not being uncomplicatedly unpredictable Lesiba is working on being financially sustainable both in business & personal living and would love to travel more as well as to keep on producing fabulous fashion, which is exactly what we wanted to hear.