IF MATHS TAUGHT YOU HOW TO DRAW
FROM village girl to successful businesswoman, Refiloe “Mapitso” Thaisi, is a fashion designer who founded Shweshwekini Active Wear. The 25-year-old Sotho woman used her childhood skills to create active wear made of fine African print, Shweshwe. With her ingenuity, she managed to change the fashion game with bikinis that stand out.
We would like to know about Refiloe Thaisi, who is she? I have been commonly referred by my second name “Mapitso” since I was a child. I am a 25-year-old fashion designer, occupational therapist and a Masters student. I am also a proud daughter, a sister and a blogger too.
Kindly take us back to your childhood. My parents and extended family originate from Lesotho. I was born in South Africa, but I spent the first six years of my life in Lesotho where my best childhood memories were made. There was no electricity or running water at the time, so we had to be creative when it came to playtime. We would make our own toys and play games. Television was not even a thing, so most of the time we were outside playing or getting water from the well or even helping out at home. As a result, we learnt how to be adults very quickly and to be creative with what we had. In 1999, I moved to Welkom in the Free State where I started formal schooling. After I matriculated in 2010, I moved to Cape Town to study towards a BSc in occupational therapy. When I obtained the degree, I still felt like I needed to learn a bit more knowledge, and enrolled for a Masters in human rights law at the University of Cape Town and I am writing up my dissertation as we speak.
As the founder of Shweshwekini, tell us about the brand.
Shweshwekini Active Wear is inspired by the Shoeshoe (shweshwe) prints which are named after King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Basotho nation. The brand is about embracing the rich cultural essence of the Basotho people with men and women everywhere. I use active wear as a medium of telling my cultural story through the eclectic styles and bright colours of the shweshwe prints. In doing so, I am targeting an area of apparel that is usually neglected by most black designers – swimwear.
It is a diverse brand that allows you to wear it not just at the beach, but in the gym and with an outfit on your way out.
How did the idea of creating Shweshwekini Active Wear come about?
The idea came to me in May 2016 while I was drawing a mind-map in my residential room of the things that I wanted to do as a budding entrepreneur. I always struggled to find swimwear that fitted me properly or that had some African print on it.
I knew if I wanted to create a new swimwear brand, it had to distinguish itself from the rest. As I had never seen shweshwe bikinis around, I knew that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, to create something that was never there before.
The remainder of 2016 was filled with doing ground research and I officially launched the brand in May last year.
I named my first collection the Mamello Collection after my mother as an ode to her. She is my biggest inspiration and who, like her name, has taught me how to be patient and persevere.
Since it has started, how has it grown?
It has had such an amazing reception. Within just six months of launching, it has been featured in magazines, I have showcased at two fashion weeks one in South Africa and another in Lesotho. I also won the Foschini Sebenza Girl competition and the list goes on. The interest is growing.
Who is your target market? The travellers, and people who love being active or being in active wear, but also the upper-middle class who love being different.
As a business owner, do you think you’re getting enough support from your fellow black people?
Definitely. They form a huge part of my clientele. So I really do appreciate the love from my fellow brothers and sisters.
Where do you see the brand in the near future?
I want it to be the world’s most iconic printed swimwear, beach lifestyle and active wear brand by the year 2022, creating job security for many people. By then I hope I will have my own boutiques and will be selling the brand across the globe and on multiple, highly rated online platforms.
What can people expect from Shweshwekini Active Wear this year?
A twist of more culture and glam. More active wear as well and bolder eclectic styles. I don’t want to reveal much, but bigger and better is what you can expect. collection.
Models look dapper in Shweshwekini bikinis.