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One-on-one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa

By Relebogile Sethole

Embracing casual yet trendy looks is what our South African designers are about. Fashion designer Kendi Sapepa of Barbara McKenzie gives us more reason to support local with her exquisitely crafted designs.

Nations Voice had a one-on-one with the Johannesburg-based designer, Kendi Sapepa for some insight with the her experience with the local design industry

Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
I think I have always wanted to become one, back in high school we had a ‘career week’ where we had to go out and spend a week in our dream professions, learn and gain as much exposure about the career as possible – and I had gone to a fashion designer, Pinkie Luswazi. However, with our economy and high unemployment rate, I found myself studying Marketing Management, as a safety net and it is in those three years that I fell in love with clothing again, but only made clothes for myself. As time went on, people took an interest in the clothes I made and started buying, and the rest as they say, is history.

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa
Picture: Supplied

Define “fashion” for us:

Fashion to me is… ‘trends, style & personality and just having fun with clothes really.

What inspired you to start your own fashion line? In which year did you?
When I first starting trading as a designer in 2012, my brand was called Vanilla Heart, but when I joined Retrofontein, shortly after, the name fell away, as I believe I had no attachment to it. With Retrofontein, we worked well together and achieved quite a lot in a short space of time, however it was a streetwear brand and my feminine and classic taste and style did not come across. That is when I embarked on my own journey that would allow me creative freedom and control, thus, starting Barbara McKenzie in November 2013. The brand is inspired by my late mother; Barbara and it is a brand that caters for feminine women who love their modern clothing with a classic twist.

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa
Picture: Supplied

What do you consider the most important facets of the fashion industry?
The business behind fashion. I think a lot of people just see the glitz and glam and forget the hard work that goes into all of it. The business aspect includes various role players, from financing, pricing, fabric stores, seamstresses, models, photographers, graphic designers, publications, collaborations and the list goes on. Without all these key players, how would we operate?

Some designers did not study to become fashion designers yet their work is incredible. Does this industry require qualification for a career in fashion or is it just talent and creativity needed?
It’s a catch 22, starting up your own business can be done by anyone who has the drive, the inspiration and the stamina to handle all that comes with running a clothing brand. The problem though, does come with competitions / talent searches, of which I have tried to enter myself… a lot of them require entrants to have a qualification in fashion in order to participate, which shuts out people like me, as I am self taught. I have however, seen that fashion week does not do that, as they accept graduates as well as those who have been in the industry for at least 5 years. So it’s not all doom and gloom. So you can can get by without a qualification, but will need a lot more than talent and creativity to keep your brand running.

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa
Picture: Supplied

How would you describe your personal style?
Hahahahaha! I sometimes chuckle to myself when I leave my place because half the time I do not look like I have any fashion knowledge. I’m often in jeans, and flats, and that’s mainly because of all the running around I do, I seldom looks red-carpet-ready. Much like a hair stylist I know, does great and beautiful hair styles, but seldom has time to do her own. I do though, dress up from time to time and when I do, it’s laid back but tasteful.

What is your favourite part about being a fashion designer?
The final product! I love how seeing your garment on someone else, just flushes away all the frustration and stress, the sleepless nights that came with creating it. It just keeps you going, and motivates you.

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa
Picture: Supplied

Any challenges you have faced?
For smaller brands like myself, you’re either making your own clothes from scratch (which I do) or you’re using as a seamstress or small CMT (Cut Make Trim) I believe the country lacks really good CMTs ones that are reliable, well priced, produces clothes of impeccable quality and most importantly do small runs. I am still in search for one.

One on one with South African designer Kendi Sapepa
Picture: Supplied

Is there anyone famous that you may have dressed?
I have had the pleasure of dressing Isibaya’s Wandi C for this year’s SAFTAs as well as styling her PR shoot (featured in The Citizen, Drum and Just Curious).

What do you think of eco-fashion?
I am totally for it! I’ve read up about it and I think it’s a great direction to take, however I think there’s still some room for improvement. Accessibility for one, I think the eco-friendly fabrics should be just as accessible as any other fabric, be in the stores where every one is. Also what H&M is doing with return old unwanted clothes – great initiative. We’re in an age where our resources are exhausted, we need to use what we have more effectively.

Picture: Supplied

What are your plans for the future?
Without giving away much hahaha, I’d like to see my brand grow, start stocking a few boutiques, venture more into styling and eventually open my own physical store.

For more info mail or follow her on Twitter: @_BMcKenzie_ also on Facebook: Barbara McKenzie and Instagram: @_bmckenzie_

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