Fashion designer takes Lesotho by storm

Fashion designer takes Lesotho by storm

Own Correspondent

ROMA – A new brand, which took three years in the making at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), is taking Lesotho fashion lovers by the storm.
Its amazing code is — Ekkwaliza.
The registered brand, developed and promoted by Lerato Albert Mokokoane, a Sociology and Development Studies student, is already making rounds on T-shirts, women’s dresses and sweaters in the markets.
If things go according to plan, new shoes grazed by the brand, will also flood the local fashion scene in time.

Our world abounds with good things indeed. It has copper and nickel and diamond and gold. But there is one thing it can only get from Mokokoane — Ekkwaliza.
It is the role of the innovators like him “to bring something new that the world does not have,” he says.

The Ekkwaliza brand is basically a depiction of semi-precious stones (mahakoe) below.
Ekkwaliza is a compound word for “ekk” and “waliza”.
The former is an expression of surprise meant to show you are shocked, or you can’t believe what you just heard or said, or you are embarrassed or you are trying to be cute and innocent.

In local slang, it would be “Eiiish!”
The latter word, “waliza,” means “you take care of animals,” but in a slang format.
The right Sesotho phrase would be “Ua lisa!”

Now you see the whole picture which would literally sound like, “Eish! Ua Lisa!” That would be, in the purest form of the word.
How is it pronounced?
“Everyone seems to have his version of how to say it. I prefer to call it like “equalizer,” something very close to that,” Mokokoane says.
But why the combination of words, you may wonder!

Be patient, then, as Mokokoane details the events leading up to the emergence of the brand.
“Growing up as a herd boy was a distressful experience,” he says. “I used to have only two meals per day, one in the morning and another in the evening. During the day my friends sought to fill their stomachs with meat from wild animals.”

Not him! He normally used that time to marvel at the precious and glittering stones all day long on a hungry stomach.
The experience was abnormal and straining, he says.
“Although I was not a slave, I was not free either. I found no value added, but pain, humiliation and heartbreak.”

Therefore the precious stones (mahakoe) which are arranged over the Ekkwaliza label are the ones that Mokokoane admired enough to make them part of his signature brand.
Little did he know that from the wreckage that was his experience as a shepherd would emanate a clothing label — Ekkwaliza!

At the right time, Mokokoane pounced on the moment and carefully designed a brand.
After going through the design to his satisfaction, he was ready to meet cloth makers. The first he met not only made clothes but also printed on them.
“He helped make the first T-shirt item and I liked it, it was impressive!” he says.
It would soon appear he was not the only one hooked on the T-shirt, “many people who saw it told me that they too wanted it with the brand on it.”
He was buoyed by the reception.

As he made more T-shirts and other clothes, more and more people got hooked and, “it later became a continuing trend, to this day.”
But, as in any journey of innovation and discovery, there were surprises.
Women always felt that the brand was meant for men.

“I don’t know,” he says.
“Some women would say, “This would look good on my man!””
In order to convince women that Ekkwaliza was for everyone, he decided to inscribe the brand on women dresses as well. It looked good and, he hopes, it will soon change the perception.
So how does the young “Innovator of the Roma Valley,” balance his business and schoolwork?

“It is not difficult,” he says.
“On one hand, I take my time in promoting my brand and giving it dignity. On the other hand, I don’t become a jack-of-all-trades. I allow others to do the rest.”
Some do the cloth-making, some the printing and some the selling.
Mokokoane is indeed part of a bigger picture, unfolding slowly before our very eyes, a picture of young, bold and innovative NUL minds who dare to create a lot out of nothing, even when all odds are stacked against them.
Next time you go shopping, then, remember, Ekkwaliza.
“Eish, Ua Lisa,” Man!

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