A fresh outlook on an old fabric

A fresh outlook on an old fabric

Own Correspondent

ROMA – IN a major break with tradition, graduates from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) are bringing a totally different flavour to the Seshoeshoe fabric!
Chere Mongangane, a former NUL Electronics student and Lemohang Mpobane who did Urban and Regional Planning are on their way to transforming African branding.

That is, even as their company Bonono Merchants plots a fresh outlook to an old fashion.
“We want to be on the cutting edge of developments in the area of Seshoeshoe,” Chere says.
With this outlook, it is not a surprise then, why Bonono Merchants was considered worthy of being part of the Vodacom Innovation Park, and became part of the winners of UNESCO Pitch Competition.
The creative merchants are the trailblazers of our time.
So what is behind the zealous youngsters’ desire for a revolution on the international fashion landscape?
“We love Africa!” is what they say.

It is a statement that is startling in its simplicity yet enduring in its implications.
They believe that Africa has been left behind for far too long and they would like to have a hand in bringing the trend to a full stop.
“Survey the clothing and textile landscape and you will realise that there are no major brands from Africa,” Mongangane says.
“In Lesotho, for instance, we celebrate Seshoeshoe fabric, but, alas, we are yet to promote it to an international stage,” he says.

At the centre of their motivation is that Basotho cannot afford to do the same old things, in the same old ways, and expect a different result.
Thus part of what they really want to do is to transform Lesotho, if not African mindset and norms, that keep Africa stagnant.
“When we started exploring the possibilities of taking on Seshoeshoe, a lot of people couldn’t help but laugh at us,” they say.

“Seshoeshoe was associated with very formal Basotho women garment.”
So what on earth did these two gentlemen have to do with Seshoeshoe, many wondered.
It was part of the mindset they sought to change and this is how. Instead of making women dresses, what if they used the same fabric to make baseball shirts and baseball dresses? They did.
What if they made hats, caps and even T-shirts? That is on their plans.
What if they extended the boundaries and moved into the uncultivated terrain of the informal, whilst applying the same fabric used to make formal clothing?

Perhaps no one captures the spirit of their quest as perfectly as Robert Frost when he said, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
But, how do they do their work?
Their strategy is fascinating. They follow in the footsteps of well-known brands around the world.
“First we built a brand and we made meticulous designs of what we wanted to achieve,” Mongangane says.

“Then we sought partners who were good at making clothes.”
“That was one of the hardest parts of the work we did. That is because we are willing to compromise anything but quality. In fact there was a time when we thought we would never meet anyone in Lesotho with the quality we wanted. We even considered crossing the border into South Africa.”
But they were glad they found Basotho who did not only master quality but had more or less the same vision they had.

“We stuck with them,” they say.
As they related their stories, the NUL trained innovators periodically expose the activists in them. They believe the present situation in which Seshoeshoe and kobo (woolen blanket), which are at the very heart of Basotho fashion and culture, are made outside Lesotho is embarrassing at best.
“Imagine what a different world it would be, if kobo and Seshoeshoe were made here in Lesotho — how many jobs it would have created and how many Basotho would have been part of the designs and developments.”

When it comes to the foreign owned textile firms, they are not convinced either.
“I once learned that in 2005, Lesotho nearly exported a total of 25 million jeans,” Mongangane says.
“What would have happened if just 5 million of those jeans were made from Basotho owned firms?”
However, the smart twosome is not waiting for others to make changes. They are working every day to be the change they want to see.
“Although our business is going well if we apply the barest minimum standards, it is still too far from where we want it to be.”
And where do they want to be?
“We want to export to many countries all over the world. We want to build an acclaimed African brand.”
With their hunger for good work and unwavering resolve, an achievement of that goal may as well be a matter of time.

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