By Dale Hes
A young designer who grew up in poverty in the township of Matsulu outside Mbombela, is making a worldwide impression through his unique designs, which portray inspirational conservation messages highlighting crises such as rhino poaching.
Bless Shongwe (27), who learnt how to tailor clothing and make dresses while experimenting with his mother’s simple equipment in his early teens, has received invitations to prestigious fashion shows in both South Africa and New York.
“I taught myself and started in the townships, doing tailoring for a friend. It then grew to making bridal wear. I decided that I wanted to make a life out of this and go for my dreams, so I started a company called Blesset Sobi, which is a combination of mine and my mother’s names,” Shongwe said.
Shongwe decided he wanted more exposure to fashion, so he got a job at a local mall in 2012, dressing up mannequins in Woolworths.
“The mall ran an anti-poaching campaign in 2013, so I designed a dress made out of plastics which highlights the rhino poaching crisis. Animals and conservation have always been close to my heart so I wanted to make an impact through my fashion,” said Shongwe.
He purposely designed the dress out of recyclable plastics, and has since designed fashion pieces out of tin cans.
“People just said ‘wow’ about the dress: it really stole the show,” said Shongwe.
Through the extensive exposure and an overwhelming response to his one-of-a-kind piece, he was asked to make a dress for a competitor in the Mrs United Nations pageant, and was invited to conservation ambassador earlier this year.
The young designer grew up without a father, with his mother struggling to put food on the table for him and his nine siblings.
It was a proud moment for Shongwe when he recently received an invitation to showcase his dress at a fashion show in New York on 2 October.
Unfortunately Shongwe was unable to attend the show due to a lack of funding.
“I would love to get some financial backing so I can spread my message to every corner of the world,” said Shongwe.
Seeing himself as a conservation ambassador, Shongwe has set his sights on creating further fashion lines through Blesset Sobi, highlighting the plight of endangered animals such as the cheetah.
Contact Bless Shongwe on 078 361 1606 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.