For Opelo Letshwiti, the smell of brand new fabric is what accentuates her love for fashion design. In Botswana’s budding fashion industry, it’s not many who can conceptualise stage costumes and bring them to life – deviating from the conventional way of designing clothes.
In her world, making unique, cutting edge designs is an exhilarating experience. During the recent Maitisong Festival, she tailored costumes for the opening night which featured Clayton Ndlovu’s ‘Butoh Dance’ and Sky Blue Dance Hub’s contemporary dance production titled ‘X’. A vibrant combination of African print fabrics and makgabe crafted skirts were among some of her handwork at the festival. From a home taught sewer to a costume-crafting tailor, this young designer is one to keep an out eye for.
One can tell by her choice of clothing that she is fashion-oriented and that she has skilled hands, although she shies away from the label of ‘designer’ and prefers a more modest term; seamstress. “I have a long way to go,” said Opelo.
Last year, she made her first breakthrough by designing costumes for Mbali Kgosidintsi’s theatrical production Tseleng. She credits Mbali for recognising her potential and encouraging her to pursue it further than just doing usual outfits for people. While she can sew anything from a dress to a bucket hat, she said she loves to explore the creative process that comes with costume design. “A lot goes into this, unlike making typical tailored clothes. You have to think creatively and make sure the designs complement the stage production,” she said. “I like the challenge; it truly grows my knack and helps me think outside my comfort zone. My creativity feels more at home in theatre costumes” she added.
She described her creativity as something that is anchored by her moods. “Believe it or not, I work well during my moody days,” she chuckled. “When Tumisang Baatshwana approached me to create costumes for their dance production, I was quite excited. Then Gao asked me to do some for the opening night. Overall, I tailored about forty outfits for this year’s festival, which was more challenging than last year, but with the help of my lecturer and my friend Tefo Senwelo, I was able to meet the task head on,” explained Letshwiti when asked about the process behind the show’s costumes.
When it comes to the problems that come with being part of the fashion industry, she revealed that support is still largely lacking from those in position of assisting upcoming designers. “There was a time I wanted to participate in a fashion show for young upcoming designers but was ill-treated there. I have a strong dismissal of fashion shows due to that experience but it might change as time goes.”Opelo also mentioned that some people still don’t take their craft seriously which is demoralising”.
On her target market, she is currently focusing on women’s clothing but would like to expand into making clothes for all ages. “I’m hoping to make clothes for all ages, be it for senior citizens or kids. I don’t want to conform to making certain clothes and in turn ignoring others,” she said.
She is currently attending a fashion course at Tlokewng Brigade in order to refine her skills into professionalism and is also working on a summer collection.