If you have an Instagram account and currently reside in SA, you’ve probably come across a tall woman with absolutely striking features and an impeccable sense of style that you cannot help but totally revere! Meet Mmanaka Kelobonye, a stylist, lifestyle blogger and the founder of CMK Couture, a unique clothing line characterized by high quality, distinguishable and bright pieces. Mmanaka’s style has been well-documented in a number of South African publications, and we of course were dying to get a piece of her too! Read more about Mmanaka’s journey below…
Interviewer: Zimasa Qolohle Mabuse
Mmanaka, how excited we are to have you feature on TCC! With your following and your strong reputation for having impeccable, inimitable style, it goes without saying that you need little introduction amongst the South African online community. You’re best known for being the founder of CMK Couture – a clothing brand you recently founded, known for its classic and elegant collections. You’re also a well-known stylist and blogger. Take us through your journey; at what moment did pursuing fashion and styling become paramount?
Thank you for your kind words, I am just as excited to be featured on TCC…
In 2010 I took a gap year to write actuarial exams in order to qualify for Honours. Studying did not take up all my time, so that became a window for me to start exploring my passion for fashion. I started having pop up sales where I would mostly sell H&M and Zara clothing that I would stock up in New York. We did not have these stores in SA at the time and they had great clothing. I would buy during the NYC sales at heavily discounted prices and put a fat margin to sell to my South African clients. That’s when pursuing my interest in fashion became important to me. In terms of styling, I believe I have been doing this for years for free. I get a lot of people asking me to assist them with putting their outfits together, friends that have asked that I come help them sort out their closets and family members that ask me to shop for them.
Not many know that you are an Actuary by profession. I find that although it’s become almost acceptable that the youth of today have a multitude of interests and talents, you still encounter individuals who react with amazement and confusion when they find out about one’s creative pursuits outside of being a professional. Has your twin image – that of being a staunch actuary AND a creative fashion icon – ever been a stumbling block for you?
I am not a qualified actuary as yet but in the process of completing the exams in order to become a fellow. Yes I do practice as an actuarial specialist.
I get individuals who react with amazement and confusion all the time, once they discover that I am a professional. The fashion not so much because I love dressing up so they can tell immediately that I could possibly be doing something in fashion. It’s the actuarial bit that baffles them.
This has never been a stumbling block, if anything it has created opportunities for me. I am yet to find a career path where the two meet. If it does not exist as yet, then I should probably create one. Surely I am not alone…
CMK Couture was launched towards the end of 2017. Please could you detail the difficulties you encountered getting it off the ground…
The only difficulty I encountered was time. I have a full time job so that’s where I spend most of my day. It is difficult as most suppliers and services are also only open during the same time I am at work. So I am not able to move as fast as I can because I cannot be in two places at one time. This is still a challenge for me, I will figure it out as I keep trying different approaches. I could have a much larger variety and collection if I had the time. Sourcing out great fabrics takes time, executing a design requires time to manage the CMT and sending out packages as well.
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that, in building their business, a cost that they underestimated or forgot to factor, was marketing. Besides your large online following, what methods have you best used to market your brand?
I have not paid enough attention to marketing but I am working on it. There are individuals (public figures) with a much larger following than me on Instagram, so I plan to leverage off their follower base through collaborations. Thus far I have heavily relied on social media, magazine features and word of mouth. I am also exploring other ideas however…
What have your biggest successes at CMK Couture been to date?
I am humbled by the positive feedback from clients. That is a success for me as they will tell their friends and family and my customer base then grows and gains credibility as well.
Something rather distinctive about your designs and style is the use of bold colours, loose-fitting or structured silhouettes and thoughtful accessories such as hats. Tell us more about your personal style and how it was formed.
I love elegant, classy and sophisticated ensembles. I also love colour and uniqueness. Not sure how my personal style was formed but it encompasses all of the things I love as mentioned.
A pivotal question: how did you finance the establishment of CMK Couture?
Through my personal savings.
Your vision for CMK Couture and your personal brand?
The long term vision for CMK is to grow exponentially and become a listed fashion house on the various stock exchanges internationally. My personal brand, I am working on that right now. I had been going with the flow of what I enjoy without really thinking this through. This process has led me to becoming a brand I guess and it’s time to define it and strategize around it.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is: Quality time with family and friends in order to study for exams
The greatest self-marketing/branding tool is social media for me (right now)…
Best investment: From a personal perspective, it’s definitely working on myself, learning all about the importance of self-love and acting on it. From a financial perspective, that would currently be an apartment I bought in a great location.
My worst money mistake was: spending retirement savings when I changed jobs in my earlier years
Advice to my 16 year old self in one sentence: Do not doubt yourself, you’re pretty phenomenal – and drink lots of water to avoid cellulite.
Connect with Mmanaka
FB: CMK by Mmanaka
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