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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.

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