Tak­ing an­drog­y­nous male fash­ion to the masses Thabo Khu­malo, owner of cloth­ing brand ToVch, has come a long way from sewing his own clothes on his mother’s sewing ma­chine. To­day, he is well on his way to be­com­ing one of the top names on the lo­cal fash­ion

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY -

taught fash­ion de­signer and en­tre­pre­neur from Soweto, Thabo Khu­malo, is the owner of an­drog­y­nous fash­ion brand ToVch (pro­nounced “touch”), which he founded in 2010. In 2014 he was run­ner-up in the SA Fash­ion Week (SAFW) Scout­ing Menswear Com­pe­ti­tion, open­ing doors for him to show­case his de­signs on the run­way with some of SA’s most well-known de­sign­ers and brands, in­clud­ing House of Olé, Ephraim Molin­goane (Ephy­mol), Ro­man Handt, Paledi Se­gapo (Palse Homme), Gert-Jo­han Coet­zee and Craig Ja­cobs.

What did you do prior to start­ing your own busi­ness?

I started sewing and re­design­ing clothes at the age of eight. I used to re­design the clothes my mother had bought me. I broke a few sewing ma­chines and nee­dles, which got me into a lot of trou­ble with my mom un­til she de­cided to sell me one of her old sewing ma­chines when I was 19. In the be­gin­ning I did not take fash­ion se­ri­ously and would only sew and re­design my own clothes, so no rev­enue was gen­er­ated. I had to find work to sur­vive – my first job was manag­ing a hair salon. Over­see­ing its daily op­er­a­tions gave me in­sight on what it takes to run a busi­ness and in­spired me to fol­low my pas­sion.

Where did the idea come from and what is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind your col­lec­tion?

I iden­ti­fied a gap in the lo­cal mar­ket for menswear. The fe­male fash­ion in­dus­try was sat­u­rated and com­pet­i­tive, while fash­ion for men was less crowded and be­gin­ning to show rapid growth. The menswear mar­ket is grow­ing as more men feel that their ap­pear­ance is im­por­tant and are will­ing to in­vest more time, ef­fort and money on their groom­ing and ap­pear­ance. ToVch is in­spired by street fash­ion and Gen­er­a­tion Z. ToVch im­parts a fem­i­nine touch to menswear and brings mas­culin­ity to fem­i­nine dress­ing. My first sale was through friends. They loved my clothes and style and would place or­ders. Af­ter I show­cased my work at the Mpumalanga and Soweto Fash­ion Weeks, some bou­tiques no­ticed my de­signs. One bou­tique with stores in The Glen, The Zone, Maponya Mall and East Rand Mall, ap­proached me to sup­ply their shops – a dream come true for a young de­signer from Soweto.

Ini­tially I ex­pe­ri­enced the nor­mal hic­cups, like late, ir­reg­u­lar, and in­com­plete pay­ments. But this did not de­ter me. I am cur­rently sup­ply­ing to Fash­ion Kraal, situated in Jo­han­nes­burg. They also have an on­line store. We also have clients who walk into our stu­dios.

When did you of­fi­cially start op­er­at­ing?

I regis­tered the com­pany in 2010 as Ghetto Bling, in­spired by Soweto street fash­ion and glam­our. We later re­launched to Touch Of Bling to launch in the SAFW Scout­ing Menswear Com­pe­ti­tion. We’ve since changed the name to ToVch in or­der to ap­peal to a wider mar­ket.

How did you get fund­ing to get started?

While work­ing as a hair salon man­ager, I saved up all the money that I made af­ter work and dur­ing week­ends from my fash­ion busi­ness. I raised just about enough to af­ford three months’ rental for a stu­dio in the Jo­han­nes­burg CBD, which I ini­tially shared with other de­signer friends. My busi­ness could fi­nally move out of my mom’s house in Soweto.

How did you come to en­ter SA Fash­ion Week (SAFW)?

stay­ing up to date with the lo­cal fash­ion in­dus­try (I fol­low SAFW on so­cial me­dia and read fash­ion and en­trepreneur­ship pub­li­ca­tions). It was a tough com­pe­ti­tion – the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria are very strin­gent and the judg­ing panel very strict. You need to be au­then­tic and know your story as a de­signer. From 14 de­sign­ers, seven went through to the fi­nals and I was se­lected as first run­ner-up.

As a fi­nal­ist, I could show­case at the SA Fash­ion Week Au­tumn/Win­ter 2015 Col­lec­tions in Oc­to­ber 2014 to an au­di­ence of buy­ers, me­dia and fash­ion lead­ers. I got in­tro­duced to dif­fer­ent mar­kets and big fash­ion in­dus­try play­ers – the re­sul­tant growth of the brand led to the re­brand­ing (as ToVch) in or­der to cater for dif­fer­ent mar­kets.

“Ours is a pre­mium and ex­clu­sive brand and our prod­ucts are tai­lor-made ac­cord­ing to the cus­tomer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions, which makes the pro­duc­tion process costly.”

What have been the three biggest dif­fi­cul­ties you’ve had to over­come?

Com­pet­ing with an in­flux of wellestab­lished brands by big re­tail­ers and bou­tiques, and im­ports of low-qual­ity Chi­nese prod­ucts and global brands. Ours is a pre­mium and ex­clu­sive brand and our prod­ucts are tai­lor-made ac­cord­ing to the cus­tomer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions, which makes the pro­duc­tion process costly.

Ex­ploita­tion by bou­tiques. Vi­o­la­tion of terms and con­di­tions of con­tracts, in­clud­ing pay­ment con­di­tions. We now sign con­tracts with clear and com­pre­hen­sive terms and con­di­tions with whomever we do busi­ness.

Mar­ket­ing the brand with lim­ited funds. We use so­cial me­dia and word-of-mouth to mar­ket the brand. We also en­gage celebri­ties to be our am­bas­sadors by dress­ing them for spe­cial events.

Biggest les­son learnt?

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