IF YOU do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
This was what kept the 37-year-old fashion designer Rebokile Lekena going after dropping out of her second year at the Tshwane University of Technology where she was studying Adventure Tourism in 2004 to pursue a career in fashion designing.
The designer who was recently rewarded for her hard work and passion with a trip to the forthcoming Paris Fashion Week after she excelled at the debut Lesotho Fashion Week in November, said when she initially enrolled in university to study tourism, she thought she had settled for her passion.
Rebokile says she has never regretted her choice.
“I thought tourism was the right choice but little did I know that it was not even close to what I would spend the rest my life doing,” she recently told the Xpress People.
Before she dropped out of TUT, she remembers hand sewing a dress for a special occasion she had to attend and was shocked at the outcome.
“My friend and I were attending a dinner so I decided to hand sew my dress and as much as I did not think much about it, people complemented the dress and I even got the best dress award,” she said.
Rebokile said after that ceremony, she started getting people asking her to sew dresses for them and since it was a chance for income, she grabbed the opportunity.
“At that time, I did not even have a sewing machine so I would lie and say my sewing machine was broken,” she laughs as she recalls.
Rebokile said the hand sewing stopped when she came back returned to school from her school holiday and her friend brought a domestic sewing machine which she immediately started learning how to use.
“It was with that sewing machine that my interest grew so I would sew even when I was on holiday,” the designer said.
After her second year she then decided to drop out of TUT to fully commit to her infant fashion passion.
“For three years, I worked in my apartment making all sorts of clothes.” Since she did not go to train in tailoring, she would tear old clothes for garments like trousers, whose patterns were complex for her at the time.
“At the time I did not even stress much about the money and how I priced my work. I was just happy that someone was willing to buy and they trusted me enough to make it for them,” she said.
She said even though her mother was stressed about her decision to drop out of school, she was happy that she was doing something she loved.
“I however, went back to school after three years to complete my degree because it was starting to stress me that I did not finish it,” Rebokile said.
It was only in 2013 when Rebokile enrolled for a one-year diploma in Pattern Making at the Mash Studios in Johannesburg and that is when she started realising her full potential and where she gained immense confidence in fashion.
That same year, she also got a chance to showcase her work at a one-week long Design Indaba Expo in Cape Town and she said she gained more inspiration afterwards.
“The Design Indaba is an annual festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995 and it was held in Cape Town that year,” she said.
Rebokile said she was honoured to get a chance to showcase at the indaba as she realised she would make a fortune from her trade.
After completing her pattern making diploma, Lekena stayed in Johannesburg and ran her office from her home.
“My business was doing very well so, I later moved after getting an office in the central business district of Johannesburg where I employed people to work for my Lushlush brand,” she said.
However, despite the more lucrative opportunities which she had in Johannesburg, she left and returned to Lesotho in 2016 after feeling an urge to start a business at home.
“I knew the money was not as much as I used to get in Johannesburg but I badly wanted to return home and start something here. I wanted to start a school where I could teach people to sew and make a small difference in the fashion industry here at home,” she said.
She currently stays in Khanyane, her home in the Leribe district and she told the Xpress People that she still gets her orders from South Africa and she is happy.