Flair Correspondent Enock Shishenge took time out to chat to full time designer and crochet artist Shikombiso Bila who hails from Nghezimani Village in Limpopo’s Collins Chabane Municipality. N’wa Bila who studied Information Technology at the Tshwane University of Technology specialising in Software Development, is currently based in Kwa Thema on the Gauteng East Rand where she runs her own fashion design brand, Maxelo Style.
For Shikombiso Bila everything started during her formative years back in primary school.
I learned about crocheting in Hisekelani primary. There was a needle work class taught by Miss Khosa and Miss Sithole. That’s where I learned how to crochet and growing up, my mom used to make me and my little sister skirts and I developed love for crocheting. I loved designing and fashion. I remember always fighting with my mom for tearing clothes but I guess that’s how that love grew.
Miss Bila says in 2017 she bought two balls of yarn with which she made a hat and scarf, and posted it on Facebook. People started showing interest and that’s how the business started for her. “I got a lot of support, and it motivated me to try different designs and people really loved my work. Social media played a huge role in getting me clients because 80% of my customers are from social media.”
N’wa Bila says she has always had a passion for fashion and has always loved knitted clothes, but she realised that most of the clothes one finds in shops are knitted by a machine. “So I wanted to re-introduce handmade items in a way that our mothers and grandmothers used to do it but in a modern way. Our grandmothers used to make granny square blankets and couch covers but I wanted to use crochet and make modern clothes that the youth can relate to.”
But this is a unique business with challenges of its own, and one of the challenges that stands out for upcoming designers is ostensibly that of pricing the product for the market. “People expect prices that they see in shops and it’s not the same thing. Most retail shops use machine knitted products and I hand make everything stitch by stitch and that requires patience and effort. You get back pain after crocheting for a long time, so it’s not easy to do mass production.”
In spite of the hard work and the back pain that accompanies the crocheting and the long hours spent on weaving the yarn in her own hands, there is the satisfaction that the designer derives from her final product. In order to keep up the good work and to continue producing beautiful designs for her clients, Shikombiso says she gets inspiration from the love of her son.
My son, Maxelo is my inspiration, every time I think of quitting, I realise that I’m not only doing it for myself, but I also want to create a legacy and a platform for my son where he can learn about business because in the times that we live in now, one cannot just depend on employment and I think it’s a responsibility of a parent to provide a good foundation for they’re children.
N’wa Bila says with the kind of customer feedback that she gets, there is no looking back for her. Satisfied customer feedback, seeing her customers wearing her designs and feeling confident about themselves, inspires her to do more and to come up with more beautiful designs.
Fashion is a unique industry that offers a lot of opportunities. N’wa Bila says people are beginning to love handmade South African products and that is an opportunity for crochet work to boom in the market.
With the opportunities that are presented by the fashion design space, one can also create one’s own masterpieces “The South African flag dress I made for Prodah was for me a masterpiece. She wanted a dress in South African colours and I had to be creative and she was happy with it and I was also satisfied.”
Bila says since she started her fashion design business, she has been receiving a lot of love and support from many people. But why do people really love her work? “I think it’s because they are used to seeing old people doing crochet work and now they are amazed to see a young woman bring back old trends in a beautiful and colourful way,” sha says.
N’wa Bila has a piece of advice for young women who may be interested in taking up fashion design. She says in her own words : ”Crochet is the future. If you take care of a crochet item it can last you a lifetime. Also crochet clothes are very beautiful and unique.”
Invest in learning about different stitches. YOUTUBE is your friend. Before I started I didn’t know that I could do a million things with a crochet, and I researched a lot. Also invest in using good quality yarn or wool for your customers. It shows.
Bila is proud to have designed an outfit for DJ Shiks that she wore to the Limpopo Music Awards (LIMA).
Miss Bila has been making her unique designs without any support from government or big corporate companies, though she thinks she would need funding someday to help grow her business. “But I also believe a business can grow without funding. All it needs is a paying customer and someone who is willing to put time and effort to grow it. Funding just speeds up the growth process and I think I now have experience in terms of running a crochet business.”
Bila says she knows all the corners of her business because she has been doing everything all on her own, from production, marketing, and making deliveries. So she is ready to take the business to the next level with the help of government or a corporate company. Taking the business to the next level, and with all the help she can get, the future can only look bright. N’wa Bila also says she would love to create employment for young people and grow with them.
I would also like to have my own boutique where people can easily access my products.
Showcase on SA fashion week, and also showcase on international fashion weeks.
Dress celebrities, local and international.
Shikombiso Bila is available to connect with interested clients on various social media platforms:
Whatsapp 072 111 0769
Instagram Maxelo Style (@Shikombisobila)
Twitter Maxelostyle (@Shikombiso4)
With Hlayiseka T Mabunda. ©2020.FLAIR MAGAZINE
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