Beauty & Fashion

In The Bag

In The Bag

Lowvelders Mandi Mnisi and Prich Shiloane have always had a passion for art and fashion. They decided to put their skills to work and started their very own business, Blakcotton Exclusive Fashion. With their signature item being gorgeous, customised bags, they tell us how they came up with the concept.

Although Mandi and Prich both grew up in the Lowveld, they only met four years ago in Johannesburg. It didn’t take long for them to discover that they shared the same interests and passion. “We saw something in each other, and we both had the same dream of starting our own business,” Mandi smiles.

She tells us that when she was about four years old, she began to cut up clothes that her mother had bought her, and make beautiful accessories out of them. Hair and make-up always appealed to her, and she even did modelling for some time.

“I knew from a young age, that I wanted to get into the fashion industry. When I finished high school I went to Xela Fashion College and did a fashion-design course, which I absolutely loved.”

Prich had worked at Woolworths for quite some time, and admits that this sparked his interest in fashion. “I learnt so much while working there, especially about the quality of clothing and accessories, and of course great customer service. I’ve always been artistic and love to draw. I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was little, that’s my favourite. I do it in a way that it tells a story about you.”

The dynamic duo moved to Pienaar just outside Mbombela, and it was from there that they combined their talents and got the ball rolling with their ideas.

“At first I was making clothes, and he was drawing,” says Mandi, “and then Prich came up with the awesome idea of making these bags. We started out making them from canvas and shweshwe material, and Prich – who has always been innovative – said we should customise the bags by adding cartoons and a photo of the child who is going to buy it.”

The idea stemmed from the fact that children in rural areas constantly have a problem with their school bags getting lost, or even worse, stolen.

“Schoolchildren usually have bags that look the same, and we both know from personal experience that if someone snatches your bag, it is difficult to identify which one is actually yours. We began customising them, also adding the child’s details onto the back of it,” Prich explains.

We call this #Tigcoke, which means ‘wear yourself’ in siSwati.

Mandi sews the bags using an overlocker machine, and Prich does all of the artwork using a digital drawing programme on his computer. All in all the manufacturing of one bag takes them seven hours to successfully make. They are 100% waterproof, and are incredibly strong due to the fabrics they use. “We also sew an extra bag inside of the bag, as lining.

“This is what makes them so strong; they won’t break. We give our customers a one-year warranty, and we follow up with them to make sure that all is in order with the bag,” Mandi says proudly.

They also came up with a wonderful initiative to help underprivileged children in rural areas. “We love kids, and it’s heartbreaking to see some of them going to school without a school bag. They use whatever they can find, like a plastic bag or just carry their school books in their hands. We make bags for these children, using our signature fabrics and then cut up maize-meal bags, and sew them onto the front, which gives them an African touch.”

They confess that this campaign has started on a small scale for now, as they are using money out of their own pocket to manufacture these bags, but dream of being able to do this on a larger scale soon. “If we could give every underprivileged child a bag, we definitely would,” Prich says.

They tell us that they throw absolutely nothing away, and recycle all items they can find, making accessories and clothing out of them, including necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, and hats, they even customise shoes with denim offcuts. Prich mentions that he is also able to put any print onto any fabric, not just the bags.

The couple also manufacture bags for adults. Mandi tells us that even with being occupied with their business, she still finds the time to make their own gorgeous clothes –  which they model on their Facebook page for their customers.

The signature on each of their bags is a cartoon version of Mandi and Prich, which he drew himself, adding in that extra personal touch.

“We’ve done our research, and have noted that our idea is unique to South Africa. No one manufactures customised bags like we do. Our ultimate dream is to open up a factory that manufactures our bags, and fashion accessories, and be able to supply them to the whole of Africa, and at airports especially,” Prich beams.

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