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His bow ties may be small but his dreams are big. Neither could have been born if it was not for the sight of his mother slaving over a hot stove.
On a balmy afternoon, we meet 21-year-old Emmanuel Mohlala, a bow tie designer, at his studio in downtown Johannesburg.
Mohlala is surrounded by a collection of his velvet and leather bow ties.
Entrepreneurship was always in his blood. He made his first buck selling fatcakes in high school to help his mother’s spaza shop. Selling fatcake after fatcake, he realized his love for the world of business.
Then he suffered the heartbreak of seeing his mother baking at 1AM.
“At the time, I felt so useless. But I always knew that I’d make her proud,” says Mohlala.
In those lean times, his dreams kept him going.
He was born in the dry and dusty Ga- Mampuru village of South Africa’s Limpopo province and grew up in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg. He is the fifth of six children.
After matriculating in 2013, Mohlala took a year off for soul searching.
“I needed to learn the ropes of business,” he says.
In May 2015, he teamed up with his eldest brother to start the Clanman brand.
“I started the business with an old tie I got from home; I had to use it to make a bow tie which I sold to get enough money to buy one meter of fabric,” says Mohlala.
“For me, they are exclusive. It’s something that should be worn on special occasions.”
Mohlala needed money to start his business. Unfortunately, no one was willing to invest.
“I was turned down at various shops around Joburg CBD for months.”
“My turnaround happened when I got a Theatre boutique at Eastgate Mall, that’s when I started to see a way forward in my business,” says Mohlala.
Though the business hasn’t made a lot of cash, Mohlala thinks it will grow into a profitable one.
Currently busy with a collection of bow ties, under his business, he has dressed South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, and celebrity Maps Maponyane.
Mohlala’s advise to his peers?
“Do thorough research. Know the pros and cons of the business you’re going into, so that you can tackle challenges when they surface.”
“When I started, I thought everyone would be supportive of my business. Soon I learned, to succeed you have to sacrifice a lot, and that friendship and business don’t go hand in hand,” he says.
He hopes to have at least a collection of watches and sunglasses under his belt by 2020.
And he would like to design a bow tie for Nigerian entrepreneur and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote. If he continues to dream big, he will.