Palesa Mokubung: The creator of Mantsho, “Brutally Black”!

‘Palesa’ means ‘flower’ in her native Sesotho language, which Palesa Mokubung has in the logo of her Clothing Brand ‘Mantsho’ meaning ‘brutally black’ or, to put it subtly, ‘a beautiful complexion’. She has not one but four flowers (or petals) with a female face in each of them in her logo which her artist brother designed for her.flower’ in her native Sesotho language, which Palesa Mokubung has in the logo of her Clothing Brand ‘Mantsho’ meaning ‘brutally black’ or, to put it subtly, ‘a beautiful complexion’. She has not one but four flowers (or petals) with a female face in each of them in her logo which her artist brother designed for her.

The story of Mantsho would have been entirely different, or even never heard of, had Palesa been born in some other place in the Apartheid South Africa than in Kroonstad (Crown City) in the Free State province close to Gauteng, a highly metropolitan province with the SA’s largest city, Johannesburg, and the administrative capital, Pretoria, and some of the important industrial areas.

She was destined to be born in a Crown City to wear a Crown in the country’s fashion industry!

She named her Fashion Brand ‘Mantsho’ probably for two reasons: one, after the nickname ‘Mantsho’ she was given when she was young and, the other, she has an emotional attachment to her native South African culture, which you will feel as the story unfolds.

Crossing The Right Brand Building Milestones:

Palesa Mokubung crossed all the right milestones in building her fashion brand, Mantsho:

#she joined fashion designing course at the university but dropped out to find more practical approach than the one given in theory; (but she ultimately completed her bachelor’s later)

#designed her own dresses which, in 2000, caught the eye of Nkhensai Nkosi, the owner of Stoned Cherrie, one of the famed fashion designers; got a job at Stoned Cherrie and sold her first stock of 30 dresses in one day and was encouraged by Nkosi to make more;

#in 2003 Palesa entered a young fashion talent competition, using the themes from South Africa’s 10 Years of Freedom, and after winning the competition, she travelled abroad with her ‘stunning’ collection;

#left Stoned Cherrie in 2004 to launch her own brand, Mantsho; and, like most other startups, she started it from her mother’s cottage;

#in 2008, Mantsho was one of the finalists for Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa 2008 (Nested Bunk Beds by Y.Tsai of Tsai Design Studio won the prize);

#created her own fabric;

#nominated for South African Art and Culture Award in 2009;

#a bigger break came along when she was nominated for the Mercedes-Benz Award for South African Art and Culture 2009 Fashion Design (Black Coffee, a more popular fashion brand, won the award);

#won the 73rd Annual Fashion Forward International Thessaloniki Show held in Greece, standing as the first and only South African designer to do her own unique fabric.

Strong Physical Presence at Every Fashion Show:

Palesa has had her designs exhibited at almost all the SA and other African Fashion Shows and exhibitions.

Mantsho Afro-space-age frocks have found a place in the Daimler Contemporary Art Exhibition in Berlin.

Palesa’s Mantsho was on “Top 10 Fierce South African Women in Fashion”, 2010.

Palesa Mokubung’s collection was received well at SA Fashion Week in Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2014.

She also won a Fashion and Innovation Award at the Mbokoko Women in the Arts Awards in 2014, which gave her a chance to take her talent to a higher level and advance her technical and theoretical knowledge to suit the fast changing fashion arena.

Palesa was one of the best designers present at the South African National Archery Association (SANAA) 2014, showcasing their best designs in honour of the sports personalities.

Mantsho’s lines were one of the ‘Five Renowned African Designers’ at the Africa Africans Fashion Parade, part of the special program designed by Sao Paulo Fashion Week for the celebration of its 20 years in Brazil.

Palesa visited Greece, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Botswana, Senegal, Brazil and the USA (New York) showcasing her Mantsho label designs.

Media Coverage & Appearance on TV & Youtube:

Apart from her promotional videos, personal interviews and fashion show discussions, on YouTube, Palesa Mokubung has appeared in some of the TV shows: Top Billing, 3-Talk with Noeleen Maholwana Sangqu, MTV Base, 20 Something, Trace Your Roots, The Cut (as a Judge), the SABC Africa Channel,etc.

Little known fact about Palesa is that she is a musician and signs with her Sesotho band Jtjapedi, making her audience dance to her tunes. She worked at ChiLLimag, an online entertainment magazine and media/news publishing agency, for some time.

Emotional Attachment to African Culture & Concern for Social Issues:

Palesa Mokubung has shown very close attachment to the African culture. She uses the African streak more in her designs. She uses the native lavish headdresses and traditional African hairdo; selects the colors and patterns that reflect the African tastes; and uses locally made cotton fabric. For instance, she is one of a very few designers in Africa who tailored gowns in ‘shwe-shwe’ fabric aka ‘Amadaki’, hailed as the tartan of South Africa, which she used as her signature element. She is seldom seen wavering from the African culture in her designs, either for the local or for the international shows. (source)

Palesa used the runways at the Fashion Shows as a platform to not only walk the models in her designs but also make the models carry a message of concern on important social issues to the general public. For example, at the SA Fashion Week 2015, Palesa had her models wear her designs with ‘Boko Halaal’ printed on the tops and also carry placards as a sign of concern for and support to the families of the victims of Boko Haram tragedy in which some 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted and the bomb blast incidents killing hundreds by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. She stated that her act of highlighting the issues on the ramps wasn’t a ‘protest’ but a ‘process of healing’!

Celebrities That Don Mantsho:

Singer Lira, the multi-platinum selling and an eight times South African Music Award winner, known as the ‘Beyonce of Africa’, loves to wear Palesa’s Mantsho along with other famous brands. Some of the other SA celebs that show themselves off in Mantsho are: Simphiwe Dana, the Xhosa singer and songwriter; Thandiswa Mazwai, former Bongo Maffin band member; and Kgomotso Matsunyane, the TV Talk Show fame.

Estifanos Berta-Samuel, the model, actor, dancer and wardrobe stylist from Ethiopia, said in an interview that he liked Mantsho by Palesa Mokubung, keeping her in par with Stoned Cherry of SA; Angela Dean from Los Angeles; Cucci; Michael Kors of USA and Issey Miyaki of Japan. (source; Ameyaw Debrah; August 2010, in Beauty & Fashion, Modern Ghana)

Brand Marketing Strategy:

Ms Mokubung shows a good sense of brand marketing strategy. Her designs are found in stores in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Botswana, and sells them Online.

Palesa had a tieup with ‘Tie Weavers South Africa’, the well-known clothing and textile producers. The Tie Weavers SA sponsored fabric for her shows, which is very important and expensive, and, in return, Mokubung offered them her creativity and gave the company a good exposure in the market, calling it a ‘cultural collaboration’.

With a flair for pleasing people, Palesa Mokubung managed to get Umsombomvu Youth Fund (UYF), the fund aimed at creating a platform for job creation and skills development for SA’s young people, to sponsor her stall at the exhibition at the Sanlam South Africa Fashion Week: Spring/Summer Collection, 2008.

Mantsho was selected by Edgars, a fashion retailer, as part of their retailer’s Local Designer Initiative. Palesa worked and stayed with Edgars as a designer for three contracted years. (source)

Mantsho labels are sold at its own boutiques, other popular stores and online. Mantsho designs are sold through four online sources: Zando, a safe online shop; Edgars; and Spree, South Africa’s first online shop; and Burgundy Fly, an online shop with brick and mortar boutiques, too.

There’s Something Missing:

All through the time I spent on doing this write-up — visiting other websites that have articles on Palesa and watching videos in which Mantsho or Palesa is present on Youtube — I find Ms Mokubung’s marketing strategy appealing. However, I must confess, there is something missing; some important elements that are very crucial to the development of a fashion retailer are missing.

First of all, I noticed that Mantsho business website is not up to the standards. On the face of it, it looks all right, but once you get to the site, you are stuck there. Of course, it’s simple and clear – there the options like About, Events, Gallery, Stockists, and Contact on the left of the page, and when you click on any of them, a dropdown opens on the right side and you will see some relevant description. Good. But from there, you go nowhere, except in the case of Events where you have links to go and see those events in brief.

The Gallery option, which is very important, shows some models in Mantsho designs but that’s it. You are not given any information regarding any particular design, nor can you place an order or even just make an enquiry about that design then and there.

The Stockists option is drab; you are not redirected to their sites. You’ve got to approach their sites via google search, and once you reach their sites, you are at the mercy of the stores discretion; you don’t find what you want from Mantsho directly, but you are shown the latest arrivals from different brands, which certainly makes you either bounce or change your mind and go for some other designer. In a nutshell, you cannot place an order for any of the designs you find pleasing directly from Mantsho site or from its stockists sites; you have to wade through the display on the page to reach Mantsho design.

And the Contact option says ‘Get Socially in Touch’ with a simple contact form below; no business contact.

The logo looks colorful, but it is certainly not fit for a fashion designer of such repute. There is no charisma in the logo that we see in Palesa herself. The logo needs a facelift, and needs it pronto!

Palesa’s personal website is non-existent. No website of her own, nor does she do any blogging. She is found on Facebook, but, with only 3,916 friends, she does not have a strong presence there, either. (Photos Credit)

I don’t know how much conversion rate Mantsho brand enjoys, but my guess is that it is not up to the mark. Here we have a case of lack of content management; no persuasion of any sort. Customers are not inspired, and those who are inspired cannot get to the designs easily.

I dare say the PUNCH is missing! Nowhere in the entire material I have found on Mantsho or Palesa have I experienced a sense of motivation, inspiration or, at least, the urge to make an attempt to place an order. If I am wrong in this assessment, it means I have not got the required information that is pleasing to me. So, now you can imagine, the frustration a potential online customer, who is naturally in a hurry and prone to distraction, is subjected to when they can’t get to their destination with a click or two.   

I believe, when you are in a game, you have to play by the rules of that game. You can’t ask for time-out and play the game at the same time.

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