It was a holiday that inspired a brand-new career for anthropologist Motselisi Motsieloa Silindane.
While vacationing in the Nigerian capital Lagos, she was looking for clothes that would be the right fit for her and was enthralled by the beautiful colors and textures of fabric she saw and felt in the markets she visited.
They were random moments, but life-changing ones that inspired her to turn fashion entrepreneur and open an image consulting company, SwaaV, selling bespoke menswear.
On a Thursday afternoon at Silindane’s home in Buccleuch, in Johannesburg, South Africa, when we visit, she is in a small room that she uses as her office. It has a mirror, a built-in wardrobe and a suit ready for a customer. On her table are innumerable pins, a measuring tape and pictures of her daughter and late mother. This small space contains all her creative energy.
“I have long arms; whenever I bought clothes they usually didn’t fit and this didn’t give me the confidence to step up to the world. My host in Nigeria said I could have a garment made for me; up until that time I did not perceive I could have clothes made for me. I had the dress made,” says 39-year-old Silindane.
And it was a perfect fit.
“I felt amazing,” she says.
It was a feeling she wanted to share. When she came back from the trip, she trained as a color and image consultant while selling fabric.
Before that, Silindane worked as a social and market researcher specializing in HIV/Aids in children.
“My passion and enjoyment keeps me going every single day; when I left anthropology, I no longer felt happy, research takes very long for things to actualize.
“When I work with men, I measure them, let them choose fabrics, and advise them on what their colors are, in this process I get to see the beginning, the end and results and the feeling of accomplishing something,” says Silindane.
In her days as a researcher, she noticed the lack of programs packaged to empower boys. It has always been ‘take a girl child to work’.
“Are we now creating an imbalanced society because that young boy is going to grow up to marry this girl who can articulate her opinions and feelings but this boy has never been given the chance?
“I realized that even though I am working with men there is no way of knowing or changing how they have grown to perceive the world. Through SwaaV, I wanted to share that awesome feeling I had when I was in Lagos, because when you look good, you feel confident, you are more pleasant to be around,” says Silindane.
Silindile works by herself and outsources material. She extricates a well-fitted navy suit with a personalized message ‘Shine’. She says her clients like these messages.
“I chose to work with men because if there’s one person who is happy in the world then the whole world is transformed.”
Her suits can cost from R10,000 ($754) to R45,000 ($3,392). Her first order was for R50,000 ($3,768), but Silindane won’t forget it in a hurry.
“My first order was from a gentleman who had just landed from Cape Town; we met at a restaurant in Sandton for two hours, I shared my vision with him, and he asked me to make suits for him,” she says.
“The jackets were all wrong, they were not well-fitting, and the measurements were off. I got my second and third order from him; I also got referrals from him because I fixed it and made sure it was perfect.”
2011 was a tough year for her; her biggest cheerleader, her mother, died and her bank account was empty.
“I was undercharging; I lost more than R250,000 ($18,000); and at the same time, I had to make a payment of R20,000 ($1,505). I had the exact amount in my account, so I was left with nothing. That moment in my life was just too hard. I stayed in bed, in the dark, and I’d only wake up to go to the bathroom,” she recalls.
Thankfully, those days are behind her. Silindane has launched an online store and sock range, has also dressed Richard Branson, and on her Facebook page, followers call her the ‘first lady of suits’. Clearly, she has made the cut. – Written by Yonela Mgwali