In Sesotho, ‘Nthatuoa’ means ‘My loved one’, an apt name for this small business whose crocheted creations are intricate labours of love. NTHATUOA creates garments and accessories that allow for the preservation of the age-old skill of crocheting.
We caught up with founder Nthatuoa Makhapha to find out how she began her crocheting journey and turned this soothing practice into a sustainable business.
Can you tell us about yourself and your brand?
I started crafting in 2015 as a coping mechanism for my social anxiety when I was in university. I didn’t have many friends then and being in unfamiliar spaces rattled me. So, I started staying home to crocheting and continued this throughout legal studies. The brand was born from my entrepreneurial disposition and determination to turn my talent and skill into a viable business that could one day create employment opportunities for others.
There has been a revival of crocheting. How do you feel about this?
I love crocheting for many reasons. For me, it’s therapeutic and calming. You have to concentrate on the stitches and pattern creating which feels meditative. As an introvert, I love the idea of creating something in the comfort of my home, from literally nothing – just a ball of yarn.
It brings me great joy to see this skill being revived and to see people, especially the youth, interested in cultural continuity. Preserving the traditions of a culture and carrying them forward with that culture into the future is very important. It excites me to know that the next generation will look back at our work and get a sense of who we are and who they are.
Your products handmade travel “from the frosty mountains of Lesotho to picturesque Cape Town”. How does your heritage influence the brand’s ethos?
Basotho people are generally respectful people, calm, and very humble. I try to channel this into the brand by respecting other artisans and building a community. I’ve had the privilege of being around artisans from an early age. Because my mother worked at Lesotho’s Ministry of Trade, she took my sisters and I to the workshops she hosted for artisans. This is where I got to learn craft techniques such as beading.This experience inspired me and has motivated me to share my story with the world and play a part in cultural continuity through my cultural identity.
What is your creative process?
To be honest, I always have designs in mind and am very excited to bring them to life. But, with crocheting, I often have to trust the process and accept the unexpected. My creations are often happy accidents or designs that come from changing my idea during through the process.
What makes NTHATUOA a sustainable and ethical brand?
In terms of materials, I have transitioned from synthetic yarn to natural fibres to be able to make garments that are easy to take care of, sustainable, and last longer.
One of the brand’s core values is fair and just compensation for all artisans and workers. I want to be able to make a positive impact in people’s lives, so I believe in fairly compensating them for their time and skills. In addition to paying everyone a decent wage, their working conditions are closely monitored to ensure that they are fairly treated. Advocating for workers’ rights is at the heart of NTHATUOA.
How do you make sure that your swimwear looks good while being functional?
I make sure that I choose the right material for every garment. With the bikinis, I was lucky enough to find the perfect cotton mix; it is very soft to the skin and holds its shape for a long time.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a small brand, and how are you working to overcome it?
Firstly, not having enough resources to sustain and take care of myself. It is very hard when you start alone and have little support. It can be very lonely and detrimental to your health. I’ve been in and out of depression since I started, but I’m happy to say that I’m glad I didn’t give up because the adversity just made me stronger. Now, I prioritise rest so that I do not exhaust myself as I have in the past.
Another challenge is pricing the garments according to their worth. When I started I struggled with prices, because I didn’t want to make the prices too high. But, at the time, the prices were not able to cover the labour and allow me to make the profit needed to sustain me – I learnt this the hard way. Now, I’m trying to cultivate a community that appreciates the time and effort that goes into making the garments and understands that this is reflected in the price.
When you are looking for inspiration, where do you go?
I often find inspiration from my childhood memories and the people in my life. I’m blessed with the sixth sense and I also believe this is my unique point. The Mamello collection was inspired by my perseverance to share my story and my craft and out of this perseverance came a beautiful collection including the rust coloured ‘Japuira’ mesh dress.
The next collection was inspired by love. It tells the story of me opening myself up to being loved and loving without any barriers – it’s called ‘Mojalefa.’