Making clothes is a sensual experience. So says shy designer, Hangwani Nengovhela.
“Every garment I make has a memory attached to it. It’s like having a relationship. How it turns out also depends on my mood that day. Generally after finishing something I feel happy. I’m very passionate about fashion,” she says.
Speaking from her Randburg studio where she is putting the finishing touches to outfits ordered for the Durban July, Nengovhela says events like this keep her busy.
“And I’m even more excited because finally I am going to showcase at the main Durban July fashion show. And the theme is so fitting to my label, Rubicon, [that it] is synonymous with Posh? Oh My Gosh!”
Nengovhela says it has taken her more than a decade to build her business.
The self-taught designer and seamstress says she got her skills from her mom and grandmother.
“My mom was a teacher but also made clothes in her spare time. She is a lot more flamboyant in her choices than I am. She and my dad were real style icons. I’m more subdued, like my gran.
“But both these phenomenal women taught me to take pride in my work. They were so pedantic about their finishing. Once my gran came into my shop and took off all the clothes from the rail because she wasn’t happy with the stitching.
“Now I make sure that everything on my garments is perfect,” she says.
And then she breaks away from the topic. “You know my name means forgetful. I forget lots of things. But anything related to fashion I remember,” she laughs.
Nengovhela says she dreamed of working in the corporate world when she was growing up. She modelled for OK Bazaars and Gapa Model Agency at the time but never thought of herself as a designer.
She later worked in the corporate environment as a marketer for the Tourism Authority of Thailand before moving on to commuter media consultants Comutanet.
She got married at the age of 22 because, she says: “I’ve always been a serious person.” She has also always been a creative person.
“I’ve always been a creative thinker. I was going to pursue my passion for visual arts and create ads for taxis. But then I fell pregnant with my first child and had to leave the corporate world.”
Nengovhela says making ends meet became a pain, so she started selling clothes from home and out of the boot of her car.
“I never dreamed of doing my own thing because I didn’t think it would quite work. There weren’t many well-known black designers around in the 1990s when I started out,” she says.
She later met young designers who encouraged her to sew her own garments instead of selling other people’s merchandise.
This business venture was successful and she went on to open shops in Pretoria and Joburg. Then she fell pregnant again and asked a family member to run the business.
“Needless to say I was robbed blind by people I trusted. I had to rebuild the brand,” she says.
“I’m a very strong-willed person and anything I put my mind to I make sure I achieve,” she says, but adds that her success would not have been possible without the moral support of her husband and two children.