Eight Thousand Rand Loan and Cotton From Zimbabwe: Get to Know South Africa’s Coolest Denim Line

Photo: Courtesy of TSHEPO

a classic pair of jeans never goes out of style. The right pair can stay in your wardrobe for years—decades, even. “The most beautiful thing about jeans is that everybody wears jeans,” says designer Tshepo Mohlala, who goes by “the Jean Maker.” “Denim has no race: it’s a fabric that can unify the world.” 

However, while jeans have become a universal staple, the garment is still very much tied to Americana: U.S.-born brands, such as Levi’s, have been making them since the mid-1800s. 

Recognizing a dearth of South African–bred denim brands, Mohlala launched his own jean line, TSHEPO, in Johannesburg as a way to take the jean and recontextualize it within the African landscape. Since its inception in 2015, it has become one of the city’s most well-known brands. 

Slowly, Mohlala started becoming known for the jeans he would make and built up a customer base for his designs.

“I started an Instagram account called ‘Tshepo the Jean Maker,' I decided to venture out on my own in 2015 and launched TSHEPO. I took out a loan for 8,000 rands, which is about $400. I started the brand with only 100 pairs of jeans. I used to sell them from my backpack. Then the business grew, and I used to do deliveries on a bike, he says.

Now, TSHEPO is one of South Africa’s most popular denim labels. 

 At TSHEPO’s retail store, located in Johannesburg’s Victoria Yards area, customers can also come in to be fitted for a pair of bespoke jeans as well. “That’s where a lot of people who want to play come play with us,” he says. “Low cut, straight cut, bootleg—you name it.” After on-site tailors take the customer’s measurements, Mohlala’s custom jeans are cut from cottons sourced from Zimbabwe, then the pieces are assembled in a small factory in Japan.

“Zimbabwe has one of the best cottons in the world,” he says. “If you’re talking about premium, luxury denim, Zimbabwe cotton is really top tier.”

Since its inception, the brand has focused on perfecting one specific style called the Presidential Slim Fit, a timeless silhouette that is available in four different washes and meant to flatter each customer. (Before the pandemic hit, Mohlala had planned on launching two new styles, but now those are on hold.) He says specializing on one pair has allowed him to perfect the craft. “Making a five-pocket jean probably looks so simple, but it could be one of the hardest things to put together,” he says. Check out the full interview via Vogue
Mungwadzi Godwin

twitterinstagramI like sharing positive stories about Zimbabweans at home and abroad. I also write articles on Personal Finance, Fashion, Music, and Tech. Let's connect!

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