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Designing a better future: Fashion designer Thuleka Duke’s story

The mother of two started her fashion business two years ago from home with her partner Abass Maazu.

Mother of two, Thuleka Duke, started the fashion business two years ago from home with her partner Abass Maazu. Pictiure: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG -Gugulethu entrepreneur Thuleka Duke is the co-owner of ATG EKASI Handbags and Clothing, based at the Pan African Market in Cape Town's trendy Long Street.

The budding designer recently exhibited at the Design Indaba were she managed to secure an international client for her bespoke hand-stitched handbags, shoes and clothing made from rich and colourful African print sourced from Ghana and South Africa.

Duke is one of a group of township small business owners participating in the Small Business Academy (SBA) of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

The SBA provides a platform for township small business owners to gain business, financial and operational knowledge to grow and strengthen their businesses, creates networking opportunities and offers a mentorship programme whereby each participant is matched with a USB MBA alumnus.

She recalls the early years of struggling to get their business off the ground with the major challenges which they had to overcome.

"It's not an easy industry to work in and very difficult for designers to get noticed. But my selection to the SBA programme is an incredible opportunity for me to learn about areas of running a business I have never thought of. The knowledge that I'm gaining in marketing, funding and networking will certainly bring us closer to our ultimate goal of selling our products in leading boutiques countrywide and to put African designs at the forefront of international fashion."

The mother of two started the fashion business two years ago from home with her partner Abass Maazu, who studied fashion design.

Before that, Duke worked as a flight attendant based at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

"I travelled quite extensively in West Africa and the countries there inspired the birth of our African print handbags and apparel. With the much needed assistance from the Cape Town Fashion Council and Cape Graft Design Institute I was able to learn the skills to design and make my fashion items and to be exposed to the retail environment."

Duke's biggest dream is to open a school where they can teach children how to make bags.

The participants in the SBA programme will complete the nine-month intensive development programme in November.

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