When I was growing up in the Eastern Cape, the home of the Xhosa nation, traditional garments were only worn at traditional ceremonies. Most people had an item or two that they would put on during these special occasions. A lot has changed since then. Whilst the garments still can’t quite be worn daily, they are however, becoming more accessible and starting to feature outside of the traditional setting. Last week I visited the designer and owner of print and traditional wear brand, ‘My Closet’ – Akho Mayatula. We met at her home in Randburg, where she offered me a drink and muffins, a gesture which reminded me of home. It was a much welcome pause, a break, from the aggression of a city like Johannesburg. After exchanging a few pleasantries we got down to the actual interview:
DO YOU THINK YOUR BACKGROUND HAS INFORMED THE KIND OF CLOTHES YOU MAKE?
Yes it has. I initially started by selling African clothing which included the style of all indigenous South African cultures and a few other African styles, but over the last year and a half, my focus has moved to, primarily, Xhosa clothing. As a Xhosa lady from the Eastern Cape myself, I identified a huge gap in Gauteng: There were very few people in the more urban and affluent areas of Gauteng who specialized in this type of clothing, so I jumped on the opportunity whilst the window was still open.
HOW DID YOUR BUSINESS COME ABOUT AND DID YOU HAVE ANY FUNDING OR INVESTORS?
My business literally started by me hiring out cocktail dresses from my own personal closet. I was a ‘serial’ wedding guest in 2011, and accumulated a lot of cocktail dresses – true ’27 dresses fashion’. On one particular day, a friend of mine, who had received a last minute event invite, came to borrow a dress of mine, it was then that she suggested that I start hiring my dresses out at a cost. This led to the birth of ‘My Closet’.
My business has been, for the most part, self-funded. I did, however, receive financial assistance from a dear cousin of mine prior to opening my first store, in 2015. My parents have also assisted where they can.
HAVE YOU MADE ANY BUSINESS MISTAKES WITH ‘MY CLOSET’ THAT YOU’RE COMFORTABLE SHARING?
A few. Entrepreneurship isn’t a walk in the park. It’s like a ‘university’ on it’s own (without the lecturers and tutors etc.). South Africa generally doesn’t have a culture of entrepreneurship or self-employment, here you are basically taught that in order to succeed you must go to school and get a job. This means that entrepreneurs learn on the job, as we go, so mistakes are inevitable. One of the errors I’ve made in my business was rushing to open a store and choosing a very bad store location. The financial implications were devastating, and I’ve since had to close shop. I’m now working on selling online.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO DAY – TO – DAY?
I start my day with prayer and it’s something I look forward to because it is then that God imparts wisdom and strength to navigate life and business. I also look forward to meeting new clients and receiving inspiration for new designs from objects, people and places – at unexpected times.
The few times I exercise, I find it therapeutic but it’s not a practice that comes as naturally as everything else.