The Fashion Emperor
The Fashion Emperor
Perched at the summit of South African fashion
Whether you are a fashion enthusiast or not, the name House of Olé definitely does ring a bell. Well, House of Olé is a leading local South African fashion design brand which amongst a handful of other brands has enjoyed widespread success across the country and other parts of the world.
The brand was founded by none other than Olebogeng ‘Olé’ Ledimo, who has managed to steer and raise the brand to unprecedented pinnacles; whilst distinguishing himself as one of the few top designers dominating the fashion scene in the entire country.
Born and Bred in Bloemfontein, the City of Roses, Olé’s story of his daring surge to the pinnacles of South African Fashion is one that definitely needed to be told like it has never been documented before.
ON POINT Man’s editor Mpho Sekharume managed to sit down with this fashion guru as he accounts his journey to the summit of SA fashion driven by nothing else but passion. This is the story normal Free Stater who grew to become a top South African fashion erudite
On Growing Up in Mangaung
Olé grew up in the historical Batho township, which is Bloemfontein’s oldest township settlement. Widely known as ‘Sports’ the township settlement is closest to the city and mostly characterised by old-fashioned infrastructure of the early 1900s.
It also houses the Maphikela House, where foundations and strategies which led to the formation of African National Congress were forged.
In contrast, Batho is also known for being quite am uncouth type of environment, where vulgarity – termed the ‘051’ local circles – prevails. Although this trend is now characteristic of almost the entire Mangaung township, the roots of origin are definitely is Batho.
This is, nevertheless, the very same environment that bore a young boy who grew to become a leading male designer in the country; a man whose character is a total contrast of the negative attributes of his early surroundings.
“I grew up in ‘Sports’ (Batho township) and my upbringing was not any different than any other boy who grew up in the township,” he tells ON POINT Man.
Olé had the typical upbringing of township lad; catching crabs from a nearby stream and playing football and cricket.
“We had a normal, typical and proper upbringing. We would play ‘house’ and spend time in the streets playing indigenous games and playing with wire cars.
“So it was not different from anyone, but as time goes you realise that time were actually tough back then, because growing up in sports we had no role models. At some point you have to make that difficult decision and dictate that your life turns out different. It was very hard because we didn’t have immediate role models.
“However, growing up in Sports taught me a lot of things. I believe that contributed a lot in me surviving and building what I want.”
Olé still has vivid memories of being a young boy scout – something that helped shape the ordered character he embodies today.
“One of the things I appreciate about my upbringing was that I was a boy scout. The whole concept of the boy scouts was like an army for the young. We would do things like camping, big walks and you were given badges for achievements. They would show you how to make camp fire and tie knots using ropes.
“Being a boy scout taught me and prepared me for the bigger world, especially in terms of discipline,” he adds.
Getting acquainted with fashion
“It all started in the family,” says Olé who reveals to ON POINT Man that many of his closest family members and relatives are also fashion conscious and have always been.
He adds: “I think one of the things that stood out about me was that I came from a family that was very much fashion inclined.”
Olé recalls the countless trips that had to be made to Johannesburg to stock up on yester-year trendy clothing items which were brought back home to be resold for profit.
“My aunt used to travel to Johannesburg or go overseas a lot to buy clothes and bring them back home and re-sell it…my mother used to do the very same thing. And I My cousin as well used to get on the train, stock up, come back and sell. I must admit, all of them were very stylish and they still are.
“So those are the small beginnings from the family and getting into those trips to Joburg you had to be smart as well, because you had to make sure that you take off your watch and your chains and look like you don’t have money.
“I remember we used to go to the different places and various plaza’s and Bree street and actually conceal the clothes in simple suitcases so that it doesn’t show that you are carrying valuable goods. You wouldn’t want to shine here (in Joburg) and end up losing everything you came here for,” adds the fashion design guru.
All the latter activities not only ignited Olé’s passion for fashion, but also awakened the entrepreneur that he grew up to be.
“Now I can see how all of that translated into my current business; what I’m doing today.
“The spirit of me being an entrepreneur started around those years and little did I know that it will be a stepping stone for me. That is exactly why you must never undermine the days of your small beginning because that is where you get polished, sharpened and equipped for thing that you’re are going to do later on in life,” he says.
Trading his profession for passion
Many might not know this, but Olé is a qualified Information Technology (IT) professional. He obtained his B.Sc. IT degree at the University of the Free State (UFS) through a bursary sponsorship from South Africa telecommunications giant, Telkom, but he never followed through with this career option.
“I got a bursary from Telkom and used it, but unfortunately for Telkom they were hoping to get much from me for sponsoring me to study. I was bit of a clever boy and such – it was not for everyone. They (Telkom) wanted me to work for them, but all I did was the in-service training.
“I was bored with the in-service training. I remember while I was doing the in-service training everybody was hyped up about the opportunity to install IT systems and run around to different office blocks to fix things. I would stay behind and sketch (fashion designs),” he narrates.
At this point, his overwhelming passion for the fashion trade was starting to become obvious that superior at the telecommunications company took notice and called him into the office.
“The manager of the company called me in and sat me down, telling me that she can see that I love designing and that her husband is also a creative – an artist – and she advised me that fashion n most cases was not the most paying job but she understood that we get fulfilled when doing it. She told me the greener pastures were more in the professional job, rather than in designing.
“So she was basically giving me tip, and on the other hand she was telling me that she understands.
“I was glad she called me in because over the next few weeks after that talk I was able to go back to her and tell her that I quit.
However, Olé’s manager still reminded him that he had to reimburse Telkom for funding his studies.
“I had to pay them back and I did. I had to make a few arrangements without asking anyone for money. I started to believe in this thing that I want to do (fashion).”
“That was one of those bravest moves I have ever made.”
The fashion journey begins
Like a typical fashion enthusiast or expert, Olé’s dress sense reflects his career-cum-passion. He tells of how his dress codes have always stood out wherever he would go in public.
Olé started work as sales assisted at a fashion store suitably called ‘Fashionations’, which used to be located at the now revamped Loch Logan Waterfront Mall in central Bloemfontein, during his years at UFS.
“I was a sales assistant. I was still studying at UFS and on weekends I would be working at Fashionations. Someday I just walked into the store (looking for a job) and they saw someone very stylish and on the spot – I was hired.
“The lesson here is: You must look the part. If you want to be a doctor, start thinking and looking like a doctor. Start channelling all you energy and effort towards looking like that. Destiny will meet you right there.
Influenced by different fashion styles, he used to brazenly walk around the City of Roses wearing his inimitable designs and would at times walk around wearing bootleg pants with a guitar hanging on his back – in spite of not knowing how to play the instrument.
“Before I came to UFS I was in Cape Town. So a lot of style influences I had when I was in Bloem came from Cape Town. As you know Cape Town is very international in terms of trends, etc, so when I came with the Cape Town ‘mojo’ to Bloem it proved to be complete different.”
Dominating the fashion industry
“You see the House of Ole log is a lion and a crown … these represent the fact that we are her to dominate; to rule. We are not here to rule over people but to rule in our God-given territory. If the space is mine, then it’s mine. I am going to take charge and rule.
“The lion is an inspiration to the company. There is a saying that goes: ‘An army of lions led by a sheep will always be defeated by an army of sheep led by a lion’.”
Plans to have a House of Ole fashion musical are currently underway. This will be another milestone addition to the long list of milestones on the businesses list of successes.
Taking fashion to TV
Many might be familiar with Raw Silk, a weekly fashion reality show which currently plays on SABC 1. The show started off with 13 fringe fashion designers from all over the country, all competing with one of them set to become the next top fashion designer extraordinaire.
Raw Silk is the brainchild of Olé and TV producer Brian Majola, with the former serving as the mentor to the fringe designers, a judge as well as an executive producer of the show.
On being asked how the show was doing, Olé had this to say:
“Raw Silk is doing fantastically well. It is the first of its kind on the continent and it is about something that I am passionate about.
“We sort of came up with the concept. He comes from the television side and I come from fashion; we sat together, conceptualised and gave it to SABC 1,” he adds.
The landmark show was pre-recorded and still plays every week on the said TV channel. Although the show was long concluded, Olé has decided to remain tight-lipped as to who the winner is as to keep audience from across the country in suspense.
People need to be free. The day you free yourself as an individual is the day you’re going to enjoy your life; it’s the day you are going to enjoy doing the things you love and excel in them. Most people are trapped in trying to fit into the mould of society.
I think I freed myself from expectations of how people expect me to dress, and to carry on with my life… I am a free man. You can imagine walking from Sports wearing a bootleg, sunglasses and a guitar on your back and going to a taxi everyday. It is a complete contrast, totally different.
I have expressed myself the way I have always wanted to express myself and I fell into my destiny.
Every person has that thing about themselves that they need to discover.
As already mentioned, Ole took a leap of faith when he abandoned a potentially successful career in IT to pursue fashion. He emphasises that he had to take care of his studies first – obviously for security’s sake – before he could fully pursue his passion for fashion.
“There is no form of education that is a waste,” says the designer “ I think this is a message that needs to be articulated to the younger generation.”
“Education does not only teach you about that particular field of study. It also teaches you how to solve problems; how to reason and how to think.
“It helps you to polish your skills, because even though I did IT I still implement what I did in IT to my business today. So I don’t think that was a waste of time because that is where I learned to solve problems It is not a waste of time; it prepares you for the bigger world,” he adds.
“I am very passionate about young talent – it doesn’t have to come for the arts or fashion – any child that has a dream deserves an opportunity and assistance. And sometimes the assistance that they need is the advice that: if you have an opportunity to study and it is not necessarily what you want, just go for it.
“Once you re empowered or once you have the experience you can go on and pursue other things that you want, as opposed to doing nothing with your life and feel sorry for yourself. Make use of it.
Ole’s Business Ethos
The success that House of Ole enjoys rests on the fact that Ole understands the need to exercise sound business practices. His unique approach to business has helped to him to majestically continue to scale the South African fashion ladder and position himself as a captain of the industry.
The individual value he puts on each of his clients is one of the core strengths of his business.
“Inasmuch as I matter, my client matters the most. You need to make sure that client is looked after so that I can look after myself. The priorities have to be right in my kind of business; you put them first and this is what I call: “Love in business,” says the design guru.
He continues: “With love in business you treat the client differently, you put love first … clients can be very impossible demanding and frustrate you but when you have that love in business you can turn any situation around. It can be turned into triumph and help you grow your empire.”
House of Ole has a sizeable workforce of competent designers and as the proprietor, Ole says he has the best interest of his employees at heart.
“When you pay someone’s salary you must understand how important that is, because that salary is feeding a number of people.”
Returning to the Free State
“I think it is time for me to go back home and do things that I want to do,” Ole tells ON POINT Man.
He adds: “My focus now is going to be the Free State. I want to work a lot with the province
Ole believes creative individuals are not given adequate attention in the province; a problem he wants to help alleviate.
“There is a crises in the Free State in terms of fashion … there is no development; there are no schools and creative’s end up having to do other jobs because they have to survive.
“I want to see how I can uplift and help and see how we can channel direction, so as not to lose creative’s like myself to the likes of Johannesburg and Cape Town,” he says.
Ole honoured an invitation to feature some of his garments at the second annual Free State Fashion Week event which took place from April 26 to 29 in Bloemfontein. This forms part and parcel of his mission to return and plough back in the Free State.
“I was once here and now I am backed by Raw Silk and all the things I have done,” he concludes. Man
|Five fast facts about Olé:|
|– He was nicknamed ‘Doctor Khumalo’ as a young kid playing football. He says: “The mere fact that they gave me that nickname says a lot about how good I was at soccer.”
– He is a devout Christian
– Hemet his wife whilst studying at Turfloop University. The couple are proud parents of three. “I think the purpose of me going to Turfloop was to meet my wife and leave (he laughs).”
– He studied advanced tailoring in London at the London School of Arts