From the streets of Zola in Soweto to Sandton, and now the international stage, fashion designer Zamaswazi Nkosi is changing and challenging the traditional world of design.
Having started his career as a soccer player – being an international designer who dresses the likes of Miss South Africa 2020 Shudufhadzo Musida and Miss SA 2021, Lalela Mswane, Idols SA judge and actor Somizi Mhlongo, and local BlackPanther: Wakanda Forever star Connie Chiume aa well as South African actress Zizikhona Sodlaka, was never in his plans.
“I entered the fashion industry to explore the world, and I never imagined I’d be here now, where it has completely changed my life,” Nkosi told The Citizen.
The designer says design happened upon him by a fluke. “I’m self-taught, I began designing after a soccer knee injury that cut my budding career short.”
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Nkosi says he has always been a snappy dresser, always standing out from the crowd, even in the conservative football world.
The designer played amateur football until the age of 21, when a knee injury forced his career path in a different direction. Nkosi says he had a knack for designing and used to recreate garments because he had nothing to wear which advanced his fashion sense.
“People thought my sense of style was odd and questioned why I dressed that way, yet all their questions piqued their curiosity, leading them to ask where they might purchase the items.
“They had no idea that I used to sew clothes by hand and that I only started using a sewing machine later when I could afford it,” he said.
A star is born
A godsend came in the form of an introduction to Brian Lehang, a known fashionista who believes in supporting budding entrepreneurs in the sartorial space.
“He spotted me at Fashion week in Newtown, ordered a suit from me, and bought me an industrial machine. It was a blessing, no one will buy you anything and offer financial support,” Nkosi recalls.
With a plan to showcase at Fashion week, he avoided remarks from cynics and made a clear point to prove them wrong. Waiting to break the chains and enter into spaces kept shut by industry gatekeepers.
Part of that process was opening the doors to South African Fashion Week, where a qualification in fashion, which he didn’t have was needed to showcase.
“SA fashion week wanted qualifications and I pushed until I was allowed to show. I would always put ten times more effort in so that no one can question my presence in the space,” said Nkosi.
Designer to the stars
A masterstroke for his career was securing designs for Miss South Africa 2021, now Miss Supernatural Lalela Mswane.
Nkosi says he dressed a contestant named Busisiwe for Miss South Africa, hoping that the organisers would call him to dress more ladies.
“I kept knocking and this year I got called for an opportunity to dress the Miss SA finalists. The pageant is a big platform and it’s international, it can make you or break you,” he says.
Nkosi is currently the go-to designer for former Miss South Africa, now Miss Supernatural Lalela Mswane.
Adding to the list, he will also be dressing Miss Seychelles for the Miss Universe pageant and interviews to the finals, handpicked after he showcased at Seychelles fashion week.
Somizi Mhlongo is another big patron under his belt, and he designed outfits for his SA Idols appearances.
“Whatever I do needs to bring a positive response. I designed for the Idols SA finale and worked with him [Somizi] from day one Idols. My social media has grown because of it, potential clients want references that you dress the best.”
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“I think me posting on social media and people asking which celebs I have dressed bring business. I was supposed to dress Connie Chiume‘s son, and I ended up making ‘Mam’ Connie’s dress in three days for the Black Panther Hollywood premiere.”
Nkosi says there’s still a great deal to be done in the fashion space and he’s keen and eager to break down barriers to get it done.