Celebrating the essence of being an African, Nhlanhla Nciza is a woman of many facets, being part of South African award-winning Afro-pop duo Mafikizolo, a mother and wife who still finds time to live her second passion for fashion.
The birth of NN Vintage in 2007, an upmarket African couture designer label by Nciza, brought new heights for the then naïve and sceptical designer.
Dealing with the unpredictable nature of being an entertainer, Nciza describes her days as manic and unscheduled as they could vary from being in studio recording, consulting with prospective clients who demand her presence upon appointment or even outsourcing fabrics.
“The thing about being in the entertainment industry is that you don’t have a routine because days are never the same.
“But on a daily basis I come to the office to meet clients,” she says.
Her hands-on approach to the business is evident as Nciza finds inspiration when out and about in fabric stores, where “the possibilities are endless”.
However, having a dedicated team enables the prospective fashion mogul to keep a steady upward pace.
“When it comes to NN Vintage, having struggled so much in the first few years, I got to learn a lot about the fashion industry.
“Sometimes there are things you get to learn without realising that you are learning them,” says Nciza about the early stages of her fashion career.
Like most passionate entrepreneurs, Nciza chose to go all in when starting NN Vintage, even investing her life savings from her solo venture and prior success with Mafikizolo.
She soon hit tough times as she had to seek out advice from other designers and business owners who guided her through the challenges.
Her motivation for starting the fashion brand came from the early days as an “up-and-coming” music group.
“Image was everything to us. We learnt from the likes of BoomShaka, Boyz 2 Men and Bongo Muffin.
“We used to look at how they would always have a common theme that was interpreted differently and that’s were my love for fashion developed,” admits Nciza.
She went on to praise her mother who, given the situation she was faced with, still made it a point to look the part every time her and Nciza’s father would go out.
It wasn’t until she relaunched and showcased at Africa Fashion International in 2015 that she started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
She received a bitter-sweet reception from the media as she was criticised for her inability to design and make clothes specifically for African women.
This contributed to the brand receiving flak from consumers. It was a challenge Nciza was determined to face head on and prove them wrong with the help from the talented young designers she recruited to join forces with her.
“I have come a long way and was criticised by people in fashion and music.
“Some said I didn’t know what I was doing.
“However, I applaud myself for standing strong and following my heart.
“With that came the wisdom of unearthing positive from the negative criticism,” she says.
Nciza and NN Vintage will be celebrating their 10th anniversary this year and although the journey has not been easy, it has been one this entrepreneur has walked proudly and has emerged with her reputation intact.
Also, she has never taken the sacrifices for granted which she has had to make to allow her to spend time with family and friends when not on tour.
Nciza is grateful for those moments shared with her kids and husband and thanks them for their patience and willingness to share her with the people of the African continent.
“I work with lots of people who understand the vision of NN Vintage and that gives me peace in trusting them to get the job done,” she says.
“The biggest challenge in my life is finding time to do everything and make everyone happy.
“But speaking as a woman who was raised by a working-class mother, I too know that it is possible to still be a compassionate mom to my kids, loving wife to my husband and successful business woman.