Mzukisi Mbane, self-taught designer who used his seamstress mother’s sewing machine much as an artist would use a paintbrush, was inspired by his fashionista grandmother from an early age.

Growing up in Khayelitsha, he qualified as an accountant – but that is not where his passion lay – and in 2011 he launched Swagger Diariez, a lifestyle brand which became Imprint ZA in the same year. One of six creatives selected to participate in a business incubator programme by the National Department of Arts and Culture and SABS Design Institute, Mbane’s designs are all about androgyny, breaking down boundaries, melding the past with the present and celebrating heritage. We asked him about his journey and his dreams.

What are the 3 most important things you have learned from your journey so far?

  1. Every contact is important. You are as good as your network. Clients, opportunities, all come from the people you meet along your journey.
  2. It’s not easy. Great designs, good products don’t equal sales. It’s a lot of work making sure that people buy your products. It’s a lot of work to make sure people believe in your brand.
  3. No opportunity is ever too small. You never know where a feature in a local community newspaper might take you. You never know where that small charity fashion show might lead to. It’s important to know your worth, but it’s more important to open yourself up to opportunities.

  4. What advice do you have for aspiring young designers and entrepreneurs in this tough economy?

    The business side of things is the most important part of it. Creativity can only take you so far. Getting funding is very hard and the business needs finance. You need to have a business strategy, you need to have a very strong brand identity. Brand identity and strong design aesthetic is what gives you longevity.

    Quo vadis for yourself? What are your big dreams?

    My biggest dreams are creating and changing what townships are. How they are seen by people outside and how they are seen by people inside. I want my brand to be based in the township. Be able to have a factory that employs people in the township, a place where we can help mentor young people, a lifestyle centre that will attract people from all over. I want a black child born and raised in the township to aspire to be great in the township, build in the township, to change the idea that you have to leave to have a chance at having a better life.

    What is your greatest passion?

    My greatest passion is inspiring change. I started the brand and branded myself in such a way that I don’t just create clothes. I always tell a story, shine light on issues that not a lot of people are focusing on. I always aim to be remembered not as a guy who created the beautiful dress but the guy who opened doors for young dreamers because he created that beautiful dress. The guy who by creating a beautiful dress, created a gateway for a woman to believe just how powerful and beautiful she is.

    What is your favourite dessert?

    Lemon cheesecake