What do you remember from the 2012 Olympic Games in London? Was it hearing the names of countries you never knew existed? Watching Usain Bolt dash his way into history? The reuniting of the Spice Girls? For Tebo Dambe it was watching the Botswana team march in the opening ceremony wearing her designs.
“Seeing Tebo Couture designs at the London Olympics was a blessing… [My designs were] among renowned designers like Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani and Cedella Marley just to name a few. Tears dropped down my cheeks as I watched my hard work being paraded down the track and I remembered the hardships that came before it.”
It was a milestone on the painful journey from Botswana to the United States and back again. When Dambe accepted a scholarship from the Botswana government to study at The Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, her dreams began to take shape. Once graduated, she returned to her home country but things didn’t work out and she headed back to the United States, where she worked as a marketing director for an architecture firm.
“When the market crashed many [architecture] firms were retrenching… I was fired,” says Dambe.
She struggled to find a full-time job. Disheartened, she began to wonder where things went wrong in her life. It was then, at her lowest point, when she returned to her passion.
“I’m an artist, I was born an artist. I’ve been doing art, which is fine art, drawing and painting, since I was young… I locked myself in my room and said ‘You know what? I’m going to draw again.’”
Dambe spent hours in her room with her sketchpad and before she knew it she had completed her first collection. With no clients or money, she took business by the scruff of the neck and Tebo Couture began to take shape.
“I had learned everything I needed to know to run my business at university… you learn how to do a logo, business cards and how to create websites…”
She took pictures of her friends wearing her designs and posted them on social media sites. Just as things were looking up, disaster struck.
“I was involved in a car accident. I had a Landrover and my car literally burned to ashes. Most of my clothes that were in the car burned as well. I am so blessed that I am still here right now… I realized that materialistic things were not that important.”
All hope was not lost. She worked harder and soon the orders started rolling in along with a few celebrity names. Among them: actress LisaRaye McCoy, actor Michael Jai White and TV shows such as Law and Order: Los Angeles and Jersey Shore. Dambe also received calls from two Botswana presidents and an ambassador.
“I am very grateful to have dressed the ambassador of Botswana, Tebelelo Seretse, in Washington D.C. She was photographed with US president Barack Obama… I could never have imagined that my clothes would reach the White House.”
Then in 2012, came a chance of a lifetime. Dambe won a national competition and got the opportunity to design the uniforms for the Botswana Olympic team.
Although Dambe would like to make a name for herself on the international scene, such as some of her favorite designers Stephane Rolland, Victoria Beckham and Ralph Lauren, she would also like to conquer Africa.
“I want my business to branch out into the African market. This is where I was born… it would really mean a lot to me if my clothes are appreciated here at home, be it South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana, I would be very happy.”
For now, Dambe is happy and back working in Botswana. With her sketchpad in hand she hopes her clothes will fly off the shelves faster than Usain Bolt flies off the starting block. FL