Nkulie Kubule: The dressmaker.

by Tima Sipoko

Posted on August 01, 2016



It was right at the beginning of Women's month as we debuted our first magazine issue profiling the life and business of an innovative woman by the name of Nonkululeko Kubule Nkamana. The Khayelitsha based founder and owner of Nkulie Kubule clothing has been setting trends with her composed signature of merging African print designer patterns with contemporary dressmaking.

So we sat down with Nkulie as she tells us her story...


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  • Sis' Nkulie Please take us right from the beginning...


    Okay, I was born on 26th October, 1976 at the Tygerberg hospital while residing in Brackenfell and from there we moved to Crossroads then to settle in Khayelitsha where my childhood was mostly based.

    How was growing up in Cape Town during those times?


    Growing up in Cape Town was quite wonderful and tough at the same time, obviously because of the era in Mzantsi, especially in Crossroads. The area had so much heated political action and our father didn't want us to get involve as we're Christians at home. Then in 1989 we moved from Crossroads to Khayelitsha where we gained a little peace.

    So what exactly do you do?


    Well my daughter calls me a fashion designer but I prefer to call myself a dressmaker because as much as I went to school for it, studied fashion and craft design at City Varsity 2006 although I could already sew at that time I needed more knowledge, but I am mostly self-taught just like my mother.

    How did you get into dressmaking?


    I grew up with my mom sewing - she was a dressmaker on one of the projects back in Crossroads. Then when she stopped my father took over the operation and that's how I was introduced to the business of making dresses.

    In 1998 I decided to enroll on sewing course in Grahamstown but dropped out and moved back to Cape Town. To late enroll on another course again in 2005 and that was when I realized I was actually passionate about the craft because earlier I was just doing it since we had a machine at home and now ukuthunga sekuyifriend yam.

    How was starting your own business and what were the challenges?

    It was quite tough but I loved it. First I bought myself a sewing machine for only R20 from a place called LearntoEarn in khayelitsha 2005 and some off-cuts fabrics they sold at a cheaper price.

    Nkulie's R20 sewing machine: kept as a memory.

    From that money I made I then bought a domestic machine and an over-locker. That gave me power to buy even a more bigger machine which is an industrial machine and from there it was all set.

    Okay, now that fashion is actually everywhere and the younger generation has started to take interest into the art of making clothes - what sets your business apart from everyone else?


    Well most of them carry the title of a 'professional designer' since they're into trends, fashion weeks and so on. Mna I'm based eKasi - my client and everything is established here.

    I'm not so much of a fashion follower but yeah my customers do bring pictures or inspirations from the 'trend circles' however I can only interpret it in my own way and can never copy another designer's piece.

    Since you don't do Fashion show or design exhibitions, How do you showcase your work?


    I use social media to showcase my work. Most of the designers have bigger spaces or studios and people who assist them. As a designer you design - the next person makes a pattern - the next does the cutting - then the last one sews the actually garment together.

    In my case I juggle all of that alone so it's not easy to do those shows and it's not like I've never been approached to do them. But if a show is in a month or two there's never enough time to complete those designs since I have to go through a lot of sleepless night alone and I make patterns using newspapers, unlike other designers. And that becomes a load of work so I can only work with orders for now and that's what I can accommodate.

    That's one of the reasons why I don't call myself a fashion designer. Like my mom - she never went to school yet woke and grabbed a machine and fabric together and I happened to do exactly that too. So basically the 'fashion designer' title will just be placing myseft in a box.

    What's your take on the vintage trends that keep surfacing back into the scene?


    Firstly, I think fashion never runs out of time and everything revolves when there're memories to look back from. So one will get clients who want an old design but with new features and the old fashion is actually the smartest.

    What would you like to change on how the fashion industry is done?


    I saw a situation on one of the reality shows where a PA was not responding to a client's order and that client was supposed to wear that outfit at that particular time but they were not picking up their phones. So to not leaving up to your promises sets up a bad image for our industry to potential clients especially on national TV - professionalism is very important.

    So now that you're are settled and established? What's the next step for you and your business?


    Well I've been planning on opening a bigger space, more machines and people for assistance because sometimes targets are not reached due to time and equipment.

    Now that you have years of experience in the industry, How would you advise a young person who aspires to be in your position?


    Firstly a person shouldn't give up easily on their dreams if they really want them. In life there are always obstacles but if an opportunity rises they should grab it with both hands like I did.

    And most of the teenagers don't like to start from the bottom at all - Use the smallest thing you have and make something like I did with a R20 machine, in which my dad had to fix first because it was beyond just second hand.

    If there's a particular fabric you like available for whatever amount of money buy it - put it together with another fabric and create something beautiful - and from that beautiful thing you get money to buy another fabric in a week double the amount of the previous one - and put a another dress together with the fabric left and grow more business and save.

    How would you want to be remembered when you retired or leave the industry?


    Everyone with a dream wants to reach a particular level. We all want to be remembered for our work - design for a well-known iconic person - as much as I get some parliament people but most of them want facetious designs and I don't do those so the best way is to refer them to a person who does. And to make an outfit you saw from a magazine is no work at all.

    Let me put in my Nonkululeko signature as that's what I'm good at.

    Photos by: @Mbali24

    What’s your working time? The great thing about being self-employed is not having specific working hours and with me working in my yard I can work till midnight if I want to.

    Favorite music/musician? I listen to jazz, mostly Sipho Gumede, and gospel since I'm also a Christian.

    On my spare time? I'm either shopping for fabric around the city or at church then on weekends on the couch with my kids watching movies, drinking a lot of coffee and chatting all day.

    Nkulie Kubule's Clothing

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