All of these designers have one thing in common – they’re men who have made successful careers out of making clothing for women. There’s nothing strange about it. You don’t need to have hips to make a dress that accentuates the female form and you don’t need breasts to make a dress with bra cups.
But when people hear Maloti Mothobi, the creator of menswear brand Strato, is female, there’s a sense of doubt. How can a woman design clothes exclusively for men? “I have to deal with that stereotype a lot,” she tells us from her newly opened concept store in the Johannesburg CBD. “I’m one of few female designers in this ‘male design space’ and this stereotype that a woman should be making clothes that she can wear is a challenge.”
But Mothobi is clearly doing something right. She’s gone from selling her garments out of the boot of her car to opening tores in Cape Town and Johannesburg. After completing a degree in fashion, Mothobi saw there was a gap in the market for a local brand that fuses sportswear with streetwear. So she created Strato (slang for street) – initially a unisex brand.
“Designing clothes for men was purely a business decision for me at first,” she says. “I was creating clothing for both men and women and literally going door to door trying to sell them. The reaction I got from the male clients was amazing so I decided to focus on that.”
Does she struggle to get the same respect as her male counterparts? “At first, yes. But my work speaks for itself. Once they see what I can do, they are forced to take it seriously.” Speaking on the kind of man she targets with the brand, Mothobi says: “I call my ideal client the Strato man. He’s young, professional and stylish; he doesn’t necessarily follow trends but he is bold and always wants to stand out. That’s why there’s a lot of colour and diversity in terms of our products.”
But why streetwear, when it seems as though high-end fashion is more profitable? “It’s just who I am,” she says with a shrug. “There was a time when I was doing wedding gowns – to this day, I still don’t understand why. I wasn’t particularly good at it and I just wasn’t happy.”
“Designing streetwear allows me to be as creative as I want to be and I love that. “I also don’t think high-end fashion is necessarily more profitable. “If you think about it, how many times do people want to go to red-carpet events versus times someone just wants a cool T-shirt to wear?”
On her dreams for her brand, she says she hopes to expand. “I opened a store in Joburg with the hope that it will grow the brand,” Mothobi explains. “One of the hardest things to do as a small business owner in fashion is to establish a loyal following and to grow it.
“It’s hard to find local clients who will be loyal to your brand in the same way they are loyal to international brands.”