It’s an open secret that most people have lost touch with their African roots cos of modernisation and urbanisation, but one Guguletu fashion designer is the fabrics that connects modern days and Africanism.
“We make unique female and male bags with mainly African print fabric from Ghana.With shoes you bring your shoe or sneaker and we revamp it. It all began in 2013 when I asked my business partner why he can’t venture into making handbags.
“At the time he knew nothing about making hand bags so we collected money and sent him to Ghana to do a course. He stayed there for three months and when he came he taught us the skill” says 42 year old Thuleka Duze who is the co-owner of ATG EKASI.
Thuleka’s calling got too loud that she had to quit her job.
“At the time I was employed by SAA as a flight attendant in Joburg. With my travelling I was exposed to fashion a lot wherever I was and that brought up that creative side of me. It took me a while to decide as I was employed. I realised that working for someone else was not something I wanted to do my whole life. It was a tough decision, but I could not bear the way I used to feel whenever I had to go to work. I even went through depression,” says the mother of two “beautiful boys”, who rather looks half her age.
Dressed up in an outfit touched with their African print, Thuleka explains that business is cut from a different cloth.
“We all about African print, everything we do and touch is all about embracing our Africanism. We added a collection of different designs as from January with help from a designer from Ghana. With that, we will be able to supply more stores even from abroad as there are potential clients in Croatia and beyond.”
Just like a raw material, ATG Ekasi went through a fining process that made it what it is today.
“We were working from my business partner’s one bedroom in a back yard in Guguletu. We felt the need to add more people to assist as the demand of our bags increased. We were selling from a container and he’d go on exhibitions in Grahamstown… and Design Indaba. At Design Indaba we met this one particular client who is from Spain” she says. She adds that money is still as everything they make goes towards production.
Thuleka attended the University of Stellenbosch Business School in 2016 to polish her skills.
“After seeing growth, we found the need for me to take a course in business which will help develop the business. It was quite an intense course. Perseverance does pay cos after completing the course I was awarded a certificate for the 2016 Most Potential Business,” she says, proudly.
Thuleka says you will never know until you give something a try.
“Starting a business is not easy. Fear of the unknown gets the better of you. Fear of having no guaranteed salary at the end of the month but without taking that risk you’ll never know. I encourage everyone to follow their passion and talents. Have a plan. Do your research. Have info and understand the ups and downs.”
Just like the bags they design, ATG Ekasi keep their clients hung closest to heart.
“We do our best to do what we think people will like, the positive feedback we get makes us proud. You sleep well when you know you’ve a happy client. We have plans to relocate to our own store very soon. I don’t regret the decision cos it has opened the doors. It has improved my creativity. There are things I never knew I could do or had in me.”
She extends her gratitude for raising her under difficult circumstances.
“I used to dress up all the time. You always want to maintain that standard of being a good dresser. Grandma raised me and ten cousins as my father left for exile. I’m very proud of her, none of cousins had their parents around. She made sure we had food on the table and clothes. She never had time for herself. She’d make sure to cook super before she went to school.”
She says she could see her granny drowning while trying to keep her grandchildren afloat.
“We could see her shoes had holes cos she used all her money she had to make sure we had everything we needed. We were a happy family in that four roomed house. Seeing her hard work made me a stronger person in life, and to see things differently. She taught me how to work hard for what you want and who knows where I would’ve ended up,” she adds that she’s passing the same values to her two boys.
“I teach my kids they’ve to work hard for what they want, but there’s only so much that a parent can do.”
“I managed to reward my granny with an eleven roomed house and told her to stop working, but you know how elder are…” she says with a proud voice.
Thuleka puts the final stitch to the interview with a little advice.
“Believe in your dream and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise. If you can dream it you can achieve it. Believe in yourself and go for what you want,” she concludes.
You can visit ATG EKASI in Cape Town, 2nd floor in Long Street at Pan African Market
Facebook: ATG EKASI
Twitter and Instagram: @ATG_Ekasi