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Meet the South African Fashion Designer Behind the Mantsho x H&M Collection

For designer Palesa Mokubung, a collaboration with the retail giant marks her ascent to the global stage.

Johannesburg's own Mantsho clothing brand has become a household name thanks to the bold work of its founder and creative director, Palesa Mokubung.

Designing both ready-to-wear and red carpet creations for her clients, Mokubung has been honing her craft as a designer since creating her label in 2004. Meaning "Black is Beautiful" in Mokubung's native language Sesotho, Mantsho is best known for its vibrant fabrics, bold and edgy designs with distinct silhouettes and structure. Her collections have been seen on runways in Senegal, Greece, New York, India and Nigeria, however her collaboration with Sweden retailer H&M may mark her biggest industry splash yet.

Palesa Mokubung Photo: Courtesy of H&M

"I chose the name 'Mantsho' to speak to my love and my appreciation for the strong black woman," she tells OkayAfrica. "Even though it's been over 15 years, I'm still inspired by my original work because I'm only just now starting to understand and sort through them. I guess that I can say that I've created this Mantsho world that has become an inspiration on its own to both myself and to others."

Mantsho is the first African label to collaborate with the retail giant who was heavily criticized last year in South Africa due to an advertising display of a young black boy clothed in a hoodie with the word "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." Several stores in area were vandalized and finally closed as a result of the customer outrage.

"This was a big mistake and we simply got it wrong," H&M's manager for South Africa, Oldouz Mirzaie tells a room of journalists at a scheduled press conference. Mirzaie adds that removing the racist hoodie advert and the hoodie itself from stores was not enough.

Photo: Courtesy H&M

As a result, the Mantsho X H&M Collection is currently online and in 11 countries including South African H&M retail stores.

A true Mantsho garment can be identified by its confident silhouette, structure and colors. These three elements work well to describe Mokubung's knowledge of her craft. "I decided to go back to school to get my degree right in the middle of it because it wasn't working for me. I had the talent but not the qualifications and I didn't want anything standing in my way. When big opportunities like this came my way, I wanted to make sure that I was worthy of it because I've put in the time," Mokubung tells SABC TV.

"I now understand how retail works. I understand the mind of the consumer and their lifestyle. I think that's why H&M wanted to get into business with me. My talent is undeniable. I know that but you still have to put in that work. I know certain parts about retail. There are pieces that I sell in the store for say R2500 and you can get them at the Mantsho X H&M Collaboration for a fraction of the price maybe R900 or R800 which is the average price point and they needed a designer that would not oppose that because they understand that the life of this project is short."

Photo: Courtesy of H&M

Shapes and colors are big characters in her designs as she believes that is where a woman stores her confidence. "This is my love letter to the world from Africa," says Mokubung. "I hope customers around the world will enjoy this ensemble of my stand-out pieces from my last three collections." Through this collection, Mokubung wanted "to celebrate the beauty of women and the vibrancy and diversity of the African aesthetic, its textures and its colors."

The brand has a signature, a face-floral motif that's spotted across its main line—it's so core to Mantsho it had to appear in this capsule (and it does, in three new prints, created by Mokubung on the occasion of this partnership). Products, which range from apparel to accessories and footwear, start at $24.99 and cap out at $129 and are on sale for a short period of time.

"I'm happy that, from the onset, H&M gave me full rein to be authentic in my designs, which are influenced by the life of the modern African woman," Mokubung says. She wanted to represent "the best of Mantsho,"

"And I'm hoping it won't be in stores for more than four weeks," says Mokubung.

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Photos by Getty Images for BET.

Africa at the BET Awards 2019: Dispatches from the Blue Carpet

We talked to Burna Boy, AKA, DJ Cuppy and more about representing their people and remembering Nipsey Hussle.

We were at the 19th annual BET Awards this past Sunday to check out the ceremonies and chat up the international artists walking the blue carpet.

BET is the world's biggest platform for Black music and it has officially gone global. If you've never been, there's a feeling of organized chaos in the air that makes you feel like you're a part of something big. Artists from Africa and the diaspora have come a long way at the award show—once relegated to a non-televised role, the "Best International Act" award is now part of the 3-hour televised main ceremony for the second year.

This year the nominees contained many of OkayAfrica's favorites, including this year's winner, Burna Boywhose award was accepted by his mom, with a message of connectedness to the continent: "Remember you were Africans before you became anything else."

READ: The Internet Doesn't Know Mama Burna At All

Held at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the BET Awards hosted over 30 artists from the African continent. We caught up with many of them on the blue carpet including AKA, DJ Cuppy, Mr Eazi, Nomzamo Mbatha and Monalonga Shozi just to name a few. Under the June heat, African performers, presenters and nominees came to show out.

One of the big themes of the night was honoring slain Eritrean-American hip hop star Nipsey Hussle's life and legacy.

Burna Boy and Stefflon Don at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

When we asked him about it on the blue carpet, Burna Boy—dressed in an elegant Dolce and Gabbana two piece ensemble in emerald green and golden overtones—says:

"You never stop wanting to hear the work of black artists do you? After Nipsey's death, it was both an inspiration and a wake up call. This is the time to spread positivity and love because you never know man, you could be gone tomorrow. He left behind a great legacy and we're just going to carry it forward."

"Nipsey's death was really felt all over Africa," South African personality Mbatha tells us. Dressed in an original full floor length A-line dress made by South African designer Loin Cloth & Ashes, she remembers, "It wasn't just that he was an African, which he was, but he showed us that we still have flames in our community that we hope will never burn out. Thank God that flames like Nelson Mandela lived for as long as it has, because each generation picked up that flame and was able to believe we can make it out and when we do make it out, we can fight to make other people's lives better."

Nomzamo Mbatha at the 2019 BET Awards 2019. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

AKA at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

South African rap superstar AKA tells us just before the opening to the ceremony, "With me coming from South Africa, BET is all about black excellence and of course Black excellence is all about Africa. Everybody is on a wave right now recognizing the importance of African culture and the importance of where it comes from. Africa is the source of Black excellence."

The Nigerian Afro-fusion star Mr Eazi, another Best International Act nominee also met up with us outside. "As long as music is being made by Black people, African people will never stop being brilliant," he told us. "Most of the people from Africa that come to the BET Awards, about a good 60 percent come from Nigeria. I feel like this needs to be a Nigerian awards show. Maybe next year we'll just buy it up and make it a Nigerian show."

Mr Eazi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

DJ Cuppy at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

Nomalanga Shozi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET

Another big Nigerian name, DJ Cuppy, acted as a blue carpet host. "When I travel around the world," she says, "I feel like people are more invested in their roots. People are more engaged with where they come from and where they families come from and they're interested in learning about other cultures like never before."

"I'm all about taking Africa to the world but it think its just as important to bring the world back to Africa," Cuppy continues. "It's important that we're stressing connecting and do what we can to keep a strong community and making sure people know that we're all in this together."

TV personality and actress, Nomalanga Shozi tells us, "You have to recognize yourself as who you are. Honor yourself first then you can project that to the world. I think it's very important for us to honor ourselves and the BET Awards does that is such a grand fashion every year."

In the BET International section of the blue carpet, Nigeria-native Alex Okosi, the head of BET International shared a final thought on the important of awards shows. "It's a platform to elevate our people," he says. "Being able to showcase to the world our true power which is the power of Black culture is as important now then ever before."

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