Mzukisi Mbane is used to standing out in a crowd. It is his most comfortable state. The 24-year-old is sporting peroxide blonde hair, John Lennon sunglasses, chequered print stove pipe trousers and a fitted jacket. Against the backdrop of the colour muted township of Khayelitsha, Mbane cuts a bold figure as he poses for a picture in the street.
The street is his runway and the outfit is cause for rubbernecking by passers-by.
Mbane is the founder and creative engine driving the fledging fashion label, Swagger Diariez.
Mbane says he has always been fashion conscious. An attempt to finish a BComm Accounting degree in a bid to secure a financially stable future only further frustrated his true passion. However, only after a dismal academic performance, he gave up his studies in 2010 and took the time to fully pursue fashion.
That decision meant starting from the very beginning. He asked his mother to help teach him how to sew using her old Swinger sewing machine.
“My mom taught me how to use the sewing machine. The first item that I made was a crop top for my niece in 2011 because that was the in thing at the time. I started exploring from then on.” His love for fashion appears to run in the family.
“I come from a background of fashion lovers. My grandma used to love clothes and she would buy clothes and pack it under the mattress... there was just (her) clothing everywhere.”
Looking back on his time as a BComm Accounting student makes him laugh at the obvious contradiction between his studies and his passion. “I was the fashion guy. I would rock up in a blazer and tie. Looking back then I was always going to be in fashion.”
These days Mbane dreams up and makes Swagger Diariez creations from a tiny wooden wendy house behind his mother’s house. He was able to have it built, buy additional fabric and sewing machines after winning a competition rewarding entrepreneurs in the creative space.
Mbane explains what Swagger Diariez means.
“When we talk about Swagger people think about Hip Hop but that’s not it. Swagger is to move with confidence and diariez (refers to) every day you put on a piece of clothing and that is an entry into your diary.”
Swagger Diariez is not township based, explains Mbane.
“The idea was to try something new from ikasi … my idea was to give people from ikasi something that they never had before. It’s not limited to ikasi. My major inspiration is Kanye West. He has always been a part of Swagger Diariez.”
Mbane’s journey as a fashion designer has been completely self -taught.
“I never attended fashion school. I believe I was born to be a designer. Even when I talk to designers they don’t understand how I can draw a pattern.
It’s a lot of Google ‘how to’ and then I would alter what I learned from Google to give it the swag.”
Mbane remembers one video in particular which he stumbled across on the net and instilled in him a sense of confidence in his abilities.
“It was a video about how to make a T-Shirt. She (the instructor) said if you know how to make a T-shirt you can everything else.”
Swagger Diariez has not been without hardship, as Mbane initially struggled to attract financial backing.
“Along the way I thought that it was going to be easy and that’s when I began approaching financial institutions for support. They said I was too much of a risk. Everyone was telling me to just focus on accounting. I was very disappointed and not motivated.”
That all changed when for the first time he received financial support in the form of R50 000 after entering a competition for creative entrepreneurs looking for business support. The money went a long way in purchasing the necessary infrastructure for his business.
“Before, I used to use my mum’s old sewing machine. A lot of stuff I had to do manually. I didn’t have an over locker.”
It’s still early days for Swagger Diariez in terms of scale, but Mbane is gaining recognition in the industry.
“I’m not yet at the stage of supplying retailers. I’m doing fashion shows. When fashion functions happen I get to judge or supply the clothing. I’m working on fashion week for next year under new generation. It’s kinda weird for me. I’m being recognised for this. I was only recognised since last year but I’ve been doing fashion forever.”
Mbane has a vision for how fashion is interpreted in the place where he is from.
“I really want to change how people view fashion in ikasi where I am from. There’s a lot that fashion can change given crime and the high unemployment rate.”
Mbane is working on establishing a sewing centre in Khayelitsha in order to teach sewing skills and “train kids who want to take on fashion.”
Mbane is walking the talk and challenging those around him with the kind of clothes he chooses to wear.
“At first I was a foreigner guy. People looked at me like I was an alien.”
Once the media began taking an interest in Swagger diariez, “people started taking me seriously. People look at me like I’m insane. People still laugh at the stuff that I wear. “I have never really cared about the response I get. I’m comfortable in the stuff that I wear.”