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From Packing Scrap To Dressing Up Alek Wek

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Khothatso Laurence Tsotetsi’s office in South Africa’s capital city Pretoria, is a profusion of pink – a beaded pink flamingo stands tall on his desk that’s draped in a pink table cloth; also here are grey couches with pink patterns and a pink mat adorning the floor.

His spacious studio with multiple rooms is just the setting for our photoshoot and interview.

Millennial fashion designer Tsotetsi has made a name for himself in South Africa’s fashion industry with his sophisticated, elegant pieces for women particular about their look, and has had his creations showcased at a number of fashion weeks.

Born in Soweto, a township in the southwest of Johannesburg, in 1988, just before the apartheid era ended in South Africa, Tsotetsi moved around a lot as a child.

READ MORE: From Football To Fashion

“My father was a politician, that’s why we moved from one place to another. We moved from Soweto to the Free State [a province in South Africa]; we lived in the Vaal for some time until I eventually moved to Pretoria in 2009, and since then I’ve been practicing from here.”

As a young boy, he says, his behaviour was peculiar compared to other boys his age. Where they played football, he played with fabric.

He was interested in dress designing and started with some needlework; all this evolved in high school when he figured out that designing was what he wanted to pursue. In tertiary school, Tsotetsi started showcasing at fashion weeks every season.

After graduating with a BTech degree in 2012, and with a National Diploma in Fashion in 2013 from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), he lectured on construction, patterns and creative design at TUT for a few years.

By then, he was already involved in the eponymous business he had started in 2012. Tsotetsi KL, his brand, was doing well.

“2012 was when I got my big break at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Johannesburg when African Fashion International (AFI) brought Alek Wek to walk for my show; from there, I did Black Fashion Week Paris,” he recalls.

This meant hard work, sacrifices and the relentless pursuit of his passion.

READ MORE: The Sweet and Fashionable Life Of Being Your Own Boss

As an assistant, Tsotetsi packed scraps of fabric for South African fashion mogul Clive Rundle for six weeks, coordinating scraps by color and fabric. Tsotetsi knows it as Rundle’s aesthetic. Rundle has sold womenswear for decades and showcased his work on ramps across the world.

“I taught art and design at a high school in the Vaal for a month and on the weekends, I would work at Clive Rundle’s; after that month, I worked permanently every day at his Johannesburg studio in the [central] business district. That’s when I started helping with the clothing and the shows, and then I worked with David Tlale in 2014 under a mentorship program, the AFI Next Generation,” says Tsotetsi.

The young designer had to shadow famed South African designer Tlale for three months before Tlale’s first New York Fashion Week show.

From both designers, Tsotetsi learned a lot and infused it with his own method, understanding the business side of fashion and not just the creative aspects. He developed a clientele base and streamlined his business into what it is today.

Tsotetsi in his spacious offices with model, Fath Mncube. Photograph by Motlabana Monnakgotla

Over the years, he has learned a great deal and gained a lot of experience in the industry, showcasing his creations yet constantly questioning himself about what is more important: money, fame or social media likes.

“Still, why showcase,” he asks.

“As soon as it’s a company, it’s an entity with different principles: human resources, finance, graphics, photography and all of that, but as a small business, you cannot afford those services, you have to step in as the owner and play those different roles, ask for favors, manipulate people, lie, and do all of those things. So for you to be able to maintain the business, you need to be making money and paying staff. Those are the dynamics that have been in place from 2014 until 2018.”

In the eyes of the young creative designer, growth meant making money.

Among many other rich and famous names, Tsotetsi has dressed the likes of Hulisani Ravele, a radio personality and former YoTV presenter; Precious Moloi-Motsepe, a fashion entrepreneur and philanthropist, who runs the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week; and Rorisang Thandekiso, a South African actress, presenter and musician.

“I know Khothatso from high school, so he’s been making me stuff since but my real first was my first SAMAs [South African Music Awards] in 2010, it was amazing and futuristic. This year, I’m at the SAMAs in June doing the red carpet and presenting an award; he’ll be dressing me for both. We did the SAFTAs [South African Film and Television Awards] together. That dress took everybody by storm, and everybody absolutely loved it. It was just beautiful to look at people respond to it,” says Thandekiso.

Tsotetsi KL caters for a market that is distinctively chic and sophisticated.

“It is women that are of a peculiar kind who want to portray classiness in an elegant way. They want to stand out, they have exaggerated style and thoughts and they are one in zero,” says Tsotetsi.

The brand does bespoke and high-end garments and is currently working with Luminance, a fashion and lifestyle concept store present in the upscale Hyde Park Corner mall in north Johannesburg.

Faith Mncube of Fabulousdotcom Models. Photograph by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

The garments seen in the photos are from the 2014 fashion weeks from different seasons. Tsotetsi’s favorite is a ruffle dress.

“It was a highly publicised look from the SAMAs’ [edition] 21. It was a dress that Kelly Khumalo [South African singer, actress and dancer] wore and it was one of its kind at the time; it was bigger than what it is in the image. It was 180 meters before it was tailored. It is one iconic look that we photographed for the feature,” he says.

Tsotetsi KL will be turning six years old in August and is slated to have a spectacular fashion show for Women’s Month, observed in South Africa every year that month. Tsotetsi employs four permanent staff and three interns. They are all hard at work in his studio preparing the next line.

For the lad from Soweto obsessed with needlework, he has his work cut out for him.

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Noëlla Coursaris Musunka The Trailblazer In The Congo

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The story of love, loss and triumph. The story of humanitarian, model and mother, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka.


This is a tale of generational loss. A tale about how, at the tender age of five, a child lost everything she held dear. She lost her mother, her father, familiar surroundings and was relocated from the country she’d come to know as her home. However, in losing so much, she seemed to have gained everything and insists on sharing it with others.

After the death of her father, when Noëlla Coursaris Musunka was five years old, her mother could not afford to keep her and was forced to give her only child (at the time) away in hopes that she would get better opportunities.

Musunka moved to Belgium, and later Switzerland, and was away for 13 years with very little communication with her mother back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

READ MORE |Ravaged by Ebola and War, Congo Named Most Neglected Crisis of 2018

“It was a tough time… I received two or three letters from my mom and spoke to her only twice on the phone,” says Musunka. On her return, at 18 years, she was so struck by the abject poverty that she vowed to contribute to the education of her brothers and sisters, and would give back to her country.

And she has done so in spectacular fashion.

Musunka has since had a flourishing career as a model and has graced the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle. The exposure propelled her to pursue her passion for humanitarian and philanthropic work.

When asked about what accolades, such as the one she received from the Nelson Mandela Foundation (in November 2018) and the Enhle Cares Foundation, mean to her, Musunka beams and says: “It’s very special. I’m a pan-Africanist. I love Patrick Lumumba, I love Mandela, I love Sankara. I love all these revolutionary people… who want the best for Africa… The spirit of Mandela is [his] legacy. When people remember Noëlla, I want them to remember my legacy. And my legacy and my message is to give back.”

The Malaika school. Picture: Supplied

“I’m very happy that the Mandela family contacted me and said ‘this is what our dad would want. You are a young woman investing in education and that’s the reason we want to honor you’. It’s very touching and I’m not into awards, but this one is very special.”

Since founding the non-profit organization Malaika in 2007, it has grown from a one-room school house to a world-class school that accommodates 314 students of all ages. As the school continues to operate, it plans on adding approximately 30 girls each year.

The Malaika Foundation, which is in the village of Kalebuka, in the southeastern region of the DRC, has also established a community learning center, recreational facilities, 17 water wells and farm land.

This is due to the tenacity and collaborative efforts of 31 Congolese staff members working on the ground in the DRC, and support from a team of 30 volunteers working in the US, Europe, the DRC and other locations.
In Kalebuka, the community plays an integral role in the daily running of the school.

“We have 30 parents a day who come to maintain the school. The whole community is driven. The village takes care of the program and protects it. The community center is good because it’s also important to teach the parents. We have the youth and the parents who come to the community center to learn to read, write, sew, and we have key messages. We also distribute malaria nets.

“So, we have 5,000 people who go there and all programs are free. The school is for free. The staff [members] give of their time, their skills and their money. We have a pro-bono lawyer, pro-bono auditing … [and] we teach the mothers to make the uniforms. We give the girls underwear, socks and shoes.”

The colloquail term ‘say it with your chest’, means to say something with determination, self-assurance and without fear. During her interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA at the Da Vinci Hotel in Sandton in Johannesburg in November, Musunka was wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Revolution’ across it. The education revolution has swept the village of Kalebuka, in the form for Musunka and her team.

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WATCH | The Making Of The New Wealth Creators Cover

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The New Wealth Creators is the first of its kind list by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Herein is a collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.

These 20 women have been selected because they have created significant impact in their respective sectors by transforming a market or company, or innovating a product or service, and are pioneering their organization(s) in generating new untapped streams of income.

VIEW THE FULL LIST|Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

These women come from across the continent, from the villages and the suburbs, and are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. They have all adopted sustainable development initiatives in one way or another to help solve Africa’s problems.

They may be wealth creators but their businesses, ironically, did not stem from a need to make money,  but rather from the need to solve Africa’s persisting socio-economic challenges.

 Economically empowering women has shown to boost productivity. It increases economic diversification and income equality, in addition to other positive developmental outcomes.

Simply put, when more women work, economies are likely to grow.

FORBES WOMAN AFRICA put in months of rigorous research, searching near and far for these inspirational entrepreneurs.

We took into account their business model, new ideas, potential, struggles, social impact, growth, influence, resilience and most importantly, their innovation.

Speaking to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA last year at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said: “Innovation [is] becoming the cornerstone for our economy going forward.”

As Africa’s population is reported to increase by 53% by 2100, according to the United Nations, new solutions must be created in order for us to keep up.

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

One question remains: can Africa translate its significant population growth into economic development, and invest this wealth to improve the quality of life?

Entrepreneurship could very well be the answer, or at least, one of the answers.

Last year, the Founder and Chair of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma paid Africa a visit to discuss tangible investment and technology development.

He encouraged African entrepreneurs to take giant leaps in solving the challenges facing the continent and to take advantage of the digital economy.

From left to right: Rachel Sibande, Arlene Mulder, Miishe Addy, Sarah Collins, Dineo Lioma, Jessica Anuna. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla
Assistant Photographer: Gypseenia Lion

He said that opportunities lie where people complain.

And these women, through their businesses, have identified just that.

Vijay Tirathrai, director of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator, shared the same sentiments with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.

“The new wealth creators, for me, are entrepreneurs who are very conscious about finding solutions in the market place, but from a lens of having social impact or having impacted the environment,” he says.

Tirathrai believes that while servicing consumers, new wealth creators are also “making a safer and a greener planet in the process, eliminating diseases, improving health conditions and advocating for equality for women”.

Women on the African continent have been making headway as drivers of change, and in many ways, they embody new wealth.

They are the true wealth.

As FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, we seek to celebrate such women.

Through this list, money is no longer the central indicator of new wealth creation.

It is about job creation, contributing to healthy societies, recycling waste, giving agency to those who are financially excluded and developing solutions for some of the socio-economic problems we grapple with.

IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019

These women may all come from different places but they are bound together by one common thread, and that is the thread of new wealth creation.

This compilation is innovative, exciting, inspiring and shows what businesses of the future may look like.

Meet the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA New Wealth Creators of 2019.

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IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019

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The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit which was hosted the by KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government took place on International Women’s Day (Friday, 08 March) at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.

Full list of winners | Leading Women Summit award winners

READ MORE about the New Wealth Creators | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

The 2019 Leading Women Summit was a full-day event, with an audience of over 500 women.

The goal was to bring together leading, influential women to share their ideas that are idea-focused, and on a wide range of subjects, to foster learning, inspiration and wonder – and provoke conversations that matter. The 2019 theme for the event was the “New Wealth Creators”.

The New Wealth Creators list, which is the first of its kind, was unveiled at the Summit. It is collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell Announced As Headline Speaker For The 2019 Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit

The Summit celebrated a host of female trailblazers, game-changers and pioneers in African business and society.

Supermodel, philanthropist and cultural innovator, Naomi Campbell was the headline speaker among other global influencers in business, sport, science, entertainment and leadership.

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