The story behind “Tshepo the jean maker”

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Tshepo The Jean Maker” was founded in 2015 by Tshepo Mahlala, a 27 year old entrepreneur, designer, stylist and creative. We meet the man behind the brand

THE “AHA” MOMENT:  Tshepo soon realised after enrolling in film school (AFDA) that fashion was really were he wanted to be. So he took up Fashion Design at the University of Johannesburg but dropped out due to financial difficulties and later started his brand.

Why Jeans: “Because I’ve always looked for a fabric with purpose, meaning and one that could stand the test of time”

FUN FACT: One of Tshepo’s jeans belonged to Robbie Brozin and had worn them when he met the prime minister of the UK in 2017. 

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Q: Tell us about yourself. Who is Tshepo?

I’m a lover of things and I love telling stories. I was raised by strong women who basically shaped the person I am today. My grandmother used to say,“Tshepo you’re a gentleman and you always need to dress like one”. She’s a pastor and uses story telling as a vehicle to spread a message and hope, and that has been a great influence in my life.   

Q: When did you realize that you wanted to go into fashion?

My first fashion moment began when I was about 8 years old. I come from a disadvantaged background so family friends would donate clothes and this one time I was given a double breasted suit which I wore to church on a Sunday and all the kids laughed at me because I was the only one wearing a suit so I hated it.

I soon realised after enrolling in film school (AFDA) that fashion was really were I wanted to be. So I took up Fashion Design at the University of Johannesburg but dropped out due to financial difficulties.

I decided to stick to fashion and started blogging, styling people and personal shopping. “Tshepo the Jean Maker” was actually my Instagram handle.

The presidential slim fit was our first pair of Jeans. I started selling them from a bag, then to a bike to now owning a physical store and delivery van.

Q: Why denim?  

Because I’ve always looked for a fabric with purpose, meaning and one that could stand the test of time. The more it ages, the better it gets. But the most beautiful thing about them is the versatility. They have given me a platform to tell my story, inspire others and create job opportunities. Jeans are also that go-to item that you can dress up or down.

Q: What has been your greatest moment in your career thus far? 

  • My biggest moment was unplanned and totally organic. Cassper Nyovest requested an outfit for his event, #FillUpMosesMabhida  in which he gave me all the creative freedom. He loved what we did for him and the following day he wore the same outfit for his Global Citizen Festival performance.
  • Another outstanding moment was when we first moved into Victoria Yards. Ayanda Mabulu, one of the greatest artists in the country, was standing outside so I invited him inside to have some pizza. He then said to me, “I’ve never seen a black guy making jeans, you’re a king!”. He took a spray can, wrote my name on the wall and put a crown on top of it and said, “You deserve a crown, use it”. Before that, we never had a pocket symbol and I always felt that it was something that was going to come to me and it came in a form of an artist which has made the brand so distinctive.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you had to face for you to get to where you are now?

  • Capital. I started with a small loan and growing it was tough but I made it happen.  
  • A team. One of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur can face is finding and building the right team. If you have a good team then the brand will be good too.
  • Fabric. In South Africa, we don’t have a strong fabric/textile industry so sourcing fabric is one of the hardest things we face so we have to buy material outside of the country. As a jean maker you have to wash the jeans so I discovered that most laundry mats in Johannesburg don’t allow jean washing because of the dye so we have to wash our stuff in Durban which makes the process long and more expensive.

Q:  What makes your jeans different to the rest?

They have a crown, its royalty! And a great fit! But also it carries our authentic stories. For e.g I took inspiration from my grandmother’s colourful house for my studio and stitching. And not a lot of South African designers have been experimenting in the ready to wear space yet we are the biggest consumers of it.  

Q: How would you style your favourite pair of jeans? And tell us more about your range of shirts.

Because I’m a working guy, my style is very simple and classic. I’m always wearing my jeans with a basic white shirt and boots. And then we have the golfers (Golf Shirts) which are  more accessible and affordable 

Q: What can we expect from Tshepo The Jean Maker in 2019? 

We want to hit the global market. We also want more product offering, more variety and more inclusivity in terms of ladies wear. We are working on a couple of super exciting collaborations as well so stay tuned!   

 

 

Tshepo The Jean Maker physical store address:

Tshepo The Jean Maker, Victoria Yards, 16 Viljoen St, Lorentzville, Johannesburg, 2094

 

 

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