For Tshepo Mohlala, the visionary behind TSHEPO Jeans, accessible, durable and sustainable clothing is always the focus. Growing up in Tsakane, Mohlala connected with denim as a steadfast staple material that gave everyone (rich or poor) the ability to feel well-dressed. From this ethos and inspiration, the TSHEPO Jeans brand has grown exponentially.
From a small, informal set up and some vague design ideas, the brand grew to a significant brand operating from Victoria Yards in inner-city Johannesburg and a store in Hyde Park – with wearers all the way from Johannesburg to the Royal Family. Prince Harry’s partner Meghan Markle purchased a pair of jeans and custom-made dungarees for their son, Archie when the family visited South Africa in 2019. Through the added visibility, Tshepo has been able to take his focus on timeless, season-less design to the mass market, including an aptly named collection called “We, The People”.
The ‘We, The People’ collection celebrates the way that South Africa’s youth participates and upholds the constitution, continually embodying the phrase A LUTA CONTINUA.
But mass-market does not mean mass-produced — and while the financial perks of a bigger brand are no doubt welcome, Mohlala has made clear that the business remains the labour of love and family: “I have not done it alone. Right now I employ six people who are as passionate about this as I am… And then there are the people who have supported me. We don’t have money in my family, but they give me emotional support. A lot of entrepreneurs underestimate the importance of that. It’s not just about money, but about the people who walk the journey and make the story with you.”
The brand’s manifesto states its commitment to the development of denim, through the promotion of Africanism and localisation. TSHEPO Jeans honours denim’s ability to stand the test of time by honouring the past, acknowledging the present and designing with the future in mind.
In the nomination application for a Twyg Award in 2020, the design process is described as transparent, to ensure accountability at each stage of production. The brand sources cotton from Zimbabwe which is then dyed in Japan using old indigo dyeing techniques that were originally created in Africa. The denim is sent to the atelier in Victoria Yards, Johannesburg where Tshepo and his team create their magic. The jean fabric is made using a weaving system called Twill, which was originated in Morocco, Africa. This makes our denim an African aesthetic, an African denim. We design for the fabric. “I’ve always looked at working with something that has a purpose. something that’s going to still be worn and lasts for the next 50 to a 100 years. At TSHEPO jeans we are constantly innovating and developing new dyeing and denim techniques, striving for greater product sustainability. Denim is versatile, trans-seasonal and also trans-generational.
TSHEPO Jeans was a winner of the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2020 for the Trans-seasonal Category.
Images: Justin Chen (main and first gallery) and second gallery are pics by Chad Nathan and Hub Studio