By: Tebogo Mokwena
Gerald Gwangwa studied and became a fashion designer to bring modern and urban styles to rural Polokwane and to the world and to prove that rural designers are as skilled as their urban counterparts. It was not his intention to be a designer, but he was inspired by the likes of David Tlale to experiment until he decided to take his newfound interest more seriously by going to school.
It was there that he realised that there were many things he thought he knew but did not. Gwangwa attended the School of Fashion and Design where he acquainted himself with the principal during holidays. This experience shaped his understanding of the intricacies of running a clothing business. These included learning about supply and demand and the importance of travelling for a designer’s work to be known.
After starting Gerald Apparels in 2017 and opening a shop in town, Covid-19 forced him to relocate to his hometown village of Newlands in Ga-Mashashane, which he now describes as a blessing in disguise. He was able to introduce new designs to rural residents who felt that town was too far for them to travel. Gwangwa told Vutivi News that when he started out as a designer, he had a friend who was also a designer who he would watch and help with his work.
He was then inspired to do his own designs, and started by sewing patches of different fabrics onto jeans. “After doing it for a while and designing some items for people, I saw that I made many mistakes in my design and how I handled the business, so I decided to go and study for a diploma in design,” he said. “I learned that running a clothing business is not just about designing and selling your work, but about demand and supply and the importance of travelling.”
After he graduated, Gwangwa started designing traditional attire which included dresses, suits, matric dresses and items of school uniforms including school sweaters and golf shirts. He realised that he enjoyed designing women’s clothes because working with women was more challenging. Men were eager to accept a design as it was, whereas women were particular and often provided feedback. “The feedback keeps me on my toes and makes sure that I am always improving,” he said.
Gwangwa predominantly designs clothes for rural-based people, but also for those living in urban areas in and around Polokwane. He noted that he had one competitor in the village, but he believes he has an edge because of his youthful designs. “Like other fashion designers, I want to see my designs on international stages,” he said. “It is very difficult, but with improvements to my designs I will eventually get there.”