From Soweto to London Fashion week

Fashion designer Lesego Malatsi talks to South Africa Magazine.

By Ian Armitage

Five years ago Lesego Malatsi couldn’t find a job. In September, he showed his designs at one of the biggest fashion showcases on the planet - London Fashion Week.

Malatsi, a graduate of Richard Branson’s Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg, was invited to showcase his work at the “official off-site event to the premium shows”, Fashion Finest Renaissance.

“I don’t think words can explain my feelings of showing at such an event, especially when it’s considered such a significant privilege by my peers in the industry,” Malatsi, a popular, young fashion designer, says.

After the show, Fashions Finest said the collection had set the catwalk alight, tweeting the clothes were “hotter than hot”.

“Taking part in this event was such an honour. It gave me a chance to share South Africa’s unique creativity, energy and vibrancy with a wider audience.”

Malatsi says The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship’s support and practical advice gave him the confidence to succeed.

“My clothing range was very popular on the ramp and I received high praise for my work. The Branson Centre supported me and gave me the advice I needed to succeed and has helped me create jobs for many people.”

Malatsi took part in the event alongside designers from Angola, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, the US and the UK. Two other South African designers – Stiaan Louw and Laduma Ngxokolo – were also at London Fashion Week for the Ubuntu International project showcase.

While Malatsi currently manages his own business, Mzansi Designers Emporium, which employs 18 people, his success as an up-and-coming fashion designer wasn’t instant.

“Like many young South Africans, when I finished my studies I couldn’t find a job. So I started my own business instead,” Malatsi says. “However, finding support to help me launch my fashion label wasn’t easy so I approached the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and was afforded many networking opportunities to promote my business.”

That was in 2006.

“I never dreamed I would be showing my clothes on the international stage. I never realised it could happen and it is very exciting. I grew up under a corrugated-metal roof in Soweto.

“There is a lot of talent in Africa. It made me realise how important my success was to not just me and my family, but in terms of empowering other people.”

He has a five-year plan to create 850 jobs in South Africa and to take African fashion global.

“Currently I have a store at the popular Maponya Mall in Soweto and I export clothing to a fashion store in Regent Street, Cambridge, UK. We aim for much more, and hope to create many more jobs.”

His story is remarkable.

“I have gone from stitching ready-to-wear garments in a Soweto township mall set amid shanties to savouring the sweet success of London's Fashion Week,” Malatsi says.

“During London Fashion Week I displayed a collection of new look African prints at the Fashion Finest event.

"Honestly, you don't know how to prepare, but it went very well.

“I certainly took the long road to London that started in a tiny home in Soweto. I had entrepreneurial flair from a young age and after leaving high school tried my hand at accounting. I soon altered my career aspirations, following some experiences I had, which changed my mind and how I saw things.”

Malatsi went onto study fashion at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and has been making clothes since.

His signature is his African print and inspired garments.

"I use what I think is authentically South African and colours representing the diversity of the country's culture.

“I think designers must be true to themselves and their roots if they are to impress an international audience.

"In many instances designers have been encouraged to try and use an almost European model, which is the wrong approach, I think. My understanding now is if you want to be a global competitor, you must bring something to compete with – something unique."

What are his thoughts on showing at London Fashion Week?

“I feel like I’ve conquered one of the greatest challenges,” he says. “And yes, showcasing at the London Fashion Week has been my goal for years.”

In a country where unemployment is on the rise and youth have little hope for the future, entrepreneurship is critical to boosting employment and fostering long-term economic growth.

Malatsi is a man with a bright future.

For more information about The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, that is operated by Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, visit or

To learn more about Mzansi Designers, visit

Image: Supplied




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