The K.Moraba & Collective fashion house stands firm on the shoulders of its goal-driven founder and former winner of ‘The Intern by David Tlale’, Keletso Moraba. He allows us into his haven and shares intimate details about building a fashion empire.
By: Mokgadi G Letsoalo
It’s not everyday that one gets invited to the studio of one of the most promising fashion designers right now. So, when Keletso, who is slated as one of the designers to watch, invites me to his studio, I am excited to see the world he is creating through fashion.
When I enter the K. Moraba Collective studio, situated in the fashion district of Marshall Town, I am greeted by the scent of flowers and alluring white walls. On my left black mannequins are stretched out in a line like models waiting for the runway.
Sitting on a huge brown velvet couch, the ever-so-stylish Keletso welcomes me into his studio and humbly accepts my compliments about the studio. I notice a workshop with fabrics and pattern boards through a door on my right. There’s someone, also stylishly dressed in a popping green jacket working on the cutting table. This is what building a fashion empire from the ground and up looks like.
Keletso grew up in a young town located at the border of Mpumalanga and the Limpopo province, Burgersfort. The designer has always been driven by his love for making clothes. Straight out of Grade 12, he moved to Johannesburg and enrolled in clothing production at the Central Johannesburg College, Alexandra campus.
The high fashion designer encourages anyone interested in fashion to get a formal fashion education. “Studying at CJC broadened my creativity and fashion-making horizon. We can be talented, but there’s always something to learn beyond our natural talents,” he shares.
“I knew how to cut and stitch a garment before my mother taught me pattern construction.”
“My way of making clothes has always been unique and hard to miss. My first client was my primary school teacher. I designed a skirt for her after she saw a bag I made that I carried at school.”
Like any fashion creative with a seamstress for a mother, Keletso always fooled around with his mother’s fabrics and sewing machine.
“My mom would shout at me for wasting her clients’ material, but she was always impressed by what I would create with the fabrics,” he recalls.
“I was still young then and did not understand what I was doing, but I loved it. My sister was my model, and she was very supportive of my career path”. This is the same sister that forced him to audition for the television show “The Intern by David Tlale”, which he won.
“Being on the show was not easy at first,” he explains. “It seemed like I did everything different from the other contenders. I had no idea Pinterest existed, but I would hear fellow contenders talking about getting inspiration from the app, and I wondered what they were on about.
“I [on the other hand] followed the brief, the traditional way of making clothes, and relied on my inspiration board”. Winning the competition proved to him that there’s nothing wrong with doing things your own way.
“Being on the show gave me immense exposure; it is where I learned that patterns are my brand’s DNA, and it was instrumental in my transition as a fashion brand.”
He continues: “The experience came with overwhelming demand, and I had to stay true to my creativity to serve my new audience authentically. I also attracted a lot of celebrities, which were different from my usual clientele.”
When asked who his ideal client looks like, he says: “I was boxing myself as just a wedding dress maker, but I believe I am versatile and can cater for any client or occasion. The important aspect of being versatile is being able to carry the signature of the brand, no matter the occasion.”
He adds: “The biggest lesson I learned from ‘The intern by David Tlale’ was to always showcase my work and get my name out there for people to recognise the brand and understand the style and signature.”
A slideshow of celebrities wearing K.Moraba
Keletso has dressed stars and influencers such as Luthando “Lootlove” Shosha, The Real Housewives of Johannesburg stars Lebo JoJo Gunguluza-Mokoena and Brinnette Seopela, fashion model Blue Mbombo, Carol Bouwer, Winnie Ntshaba, Jessica Nkosi, and Zahara.
When Covid 19 shook the world in early 2020, Moraba had just celebrated a monumental achievement, the launch of his very own studio. Like many other designers, he struggled to keep his doors open and had to cut costs to keep operating. He downsized his studio but kept producing and sharpening his sales skills by accelerating his marketing strategy and adopting new approaches to stay relevant in the new normal.
The designer also showcases his work during fashion weeks, like the African Fashion International (AFI) Fashion Week, collaborates with other fashion brands such as the House of Nala and hosts private shows for his close and regular clients.
His fashion brand produces showstopping red carpet looks, recently garnering acclaim with the design worn by Big Brother Mzansi winner Mpho Wa Badimo [Michelle Dimpho Mvundla] at the Hollywood Bets Durban July 2022. He also recently showcased and shot a collection under the theme Career-Driven Woman styled and directed by Oak Avenue’s Katlego Magano and Themba Says.
The designer says designers should strive for visibility because that translates into sales. “Visibility is key. If you miss one fashion season, the industry forgets about you. And it means someone has taken your spot.”