The small-town designer dressing up the rich and famous.
Matome waga Seshoka wants to take African haute couture to the world.
I meet him at his studio in the leafy suburb of Northcliff in Johannesburg. On this Monday afternoon, everything is running behind schedule. First, I am slightly late for the interview, and then, the model is delayed by an hour and the makeup artist has the wrong call-time.
Delays have always played a big part in Seshoka’s entrepreneurial journey.
He came to Johannesburg 14 years ago to study credit management at Technikon Witwatersrand, (TWR), now called the University of Johannesburg.
“It was difficult for my mother to understand this whole fashion thing. She questioned how fashion can be a career. Where we are from, you have to be a teacher, a doctor, or one of those careers. So I went to study credit management,” says the proud Sepedi-speaking designer.
Seshoka says he disliked it. He dropped out three years in. Although delayed, he swapped it for an education in fashion and has never looked back.
“Straight out of school, I started my business. The first few years were a bit hectic, now things are starting to look up,” says Seshoka.
Born and raised in Ga-Matlala, a rural area in Limpopo, 370km from Johannesburg, Seshoka has defied all odds to build a successful fashion brand and dress the who’s who of the entertainment industry.
He named it Antherline Couture, after his mother. She raised three boys as a single parent.
It wasn’t easy. Seshoka had to walk about 45 minutes to school every day.
At the beginning of his journey, he says he didn’t know where to specialize. He started off doing everything, from street wear to menswear, until he fell in love with African print and haute couture. At the time, African-inspired wedding gowns were in demand. He grabbed the fabric with both hands.
“When I was doing my third year, I received an order for a December wedding. The client saw my work at the Sew Africa fashion show. By the time I graduated, I already had an order. It was a quite a big order and ended up having to ask people that I went to school with to help me, so I hired them. By the time it was done, I had a startup.”
The job paid Seshoka $2,805, enough to buy three sewing machines, one overlocking machine, pay the deposit and rent for a shop and staff salaries for two months.
Kamogelo Rankoko was one of his first employees.
“We were still struggling a little, we used a domestic machine and it wasn’t strong enough for the kind of work we were doing, but we got the wedding done, and they were happy,” says Rankoko.
After this exciting job, more delays. The next three years were the hardest. There were no clients and pockets were empty.
“I ended up having to look for a job, lecturing fashion in parts of Gauteng for a year. With my salary, I could cover rent and staff salaries, because [earlier], I would come back and the lights would be off or the doors would be locked because I didn’t pay rent. If there wasn’t a plan, there wouldn’t be a plan because I was the plan,” says Seshoka.
The big break came when he got his first celebrity client, Tokelo Rantie, a South African national and international football player.
“I remember my first celebrity wedding, I did Tokelo Rantie, then I did Sello Maake kaNcube’s wedding. That’s when people started knowing about us. From there forth, I started doing celebrity weddings,” he says.
The brand blossomed and everybody wanted to work with him.
The business grew through word-of-mouth and nine years in, it has over 37,000 followers on Instagram and his clients have been named Durban July’s best dressed celebrities for the last four years.
His client list is rich with local and international stars such as Anthony Hamilton, Kenny Lattimore, Oleta Adams, Julius Malema, Nhlanhla Nciza and Khanyi Mbau.
“I met Matome through a friend a year ago; ever since I met him, I have been very loyal to him and he is the only one that dresses me for the red carpet. Matome is one of the people who believed in me when everybody thought I wasn’t big enough of a star to be dressed by them. But he welcomed me into his arms. So it’s Matome or nothing,” says Motsoaledi Setumo, a South African soapie star.
Seshoka’s career may have encountered delays but there is no stopping this small-town lad with international dreams.