A young Eastern Cape man, with big city dreams. Zano Sithetho, Creative Director of Skorzch blasted onto the scene in 2012 when he won the Renault young designer search award at South African Fashion week. From blogs, TV, radio and a 2 week wardrobe profile with GQ magazine, this man is not leaving anytime soon. As head stylist for The Soil, Zano would like to one day dress Kanye West and aspires to build a brand that is bigger than an artist, such as Tom Ford. He believes that everyman should have a well-tailored suit. I met Zano at a restaurant at Bedford gardens to find out more about his story.
Ntsiki: Firstly I want to take you back to last year when you won the Renault new designer search at SA Fashion Week, how was that?
Zano: Well for one to be at fashion week, let alone to showcase for me was wow-a dream come true. It has always been a dream and it was a goal I had set for myself, I thought maybe in the next 10 years. Then all of a sudden a year and a half into my business I am showcasing at fashion week. It was overall very overwhelming- seeing all my favourite designers and different photographers. Even beyond fashion week, as people spoke about it, wrote about it, showed on TV and in magazines.
N: The response has indeed being amazing, the amount of blogs that have written about Skorzch and how the fashion world has received it. Now I read somewhere that you initially had a t-shirt brand and that somehow evolved into this?
Z: I was in Jo’burg 2006 and my friends and I started a t-shirt business.I resigned from my job, moved back home and I left the milkshake brand as it didn’t make sense for me to stay on and be so far away. While at home I decided to get busy and try something on my own and the first order of business was to find a name. I wanted something exotic, fresh, and foreign-with some vava voom and a nice pronunciation. I always loved the checked pattern and thought Skorzch. I started making t-shirts, bought my first batch of golf t-shirts, embroiled them and sold them all; my first batch was my last.
N: So was the plan to always get into fashion?
Z: I just wanted to make money (laughs). Honestly, I wanted something that was my own and something I love. It hadn’t dawned on me to go into fashion. It was looking at my logo on the t-shirt, which I had spent all night working on then falling in love with this idea, which made me sharpen my skills and want to learn more. I started falling in love with style-the thought of creating something timeless-so I started buying GQ. I started tweaking my wardrobe and met a lady who taught me how to sew. I actually took my Carducci suit that I wore to the mountains and I cut it and created some military look-which I thought at the time was the “dopest” thing. Now I look back and see that it wasn’t, but it was in that process of creating that I realised God has planted a gift in me.
N: How was the transition from t-shits to the full image that is Skorzch?
Z: It has been a journey of self-discovery and maturity. If you had seen my first photo shoot and my work or the person I was then; the way I use to dress and talk, compared to how I am now, you can see the difference. It was hard; it was a case of pushing something I believed in against everybody else.
N: Especially when you’re from a place where fashion is not a big thing and no one understands what you are doing.
Z: Exactly, it was a huge transition. To go home every day and remind myself that this is something I want to do. Then to prove to my parents that I could make a living out of this. They looked at me and just did not see it. Then creating a brand that I could love and others could aspire to wear and just believing that Skorzch could succeed and one day be compared to your Gucci’s.
N: When you met usisi’Thandi, the woman who taught you how to sew, was your heart set on fashion?
Zano: I had a drive and determination; I was introduced to her while doing the t-shirts then after some time I asked her to teach me to sew. For a while I would go sit and watch her sew, then eventually in 2009 she taught me. She was blown away at how quickly I learnt, especially putting together pants. If you can make pants you can pretty much make everything else. From then I was just working and tailoring and making my own clothes.
N: I have heard that you prefer being called a Creative Director as opposed to a fashion designer, what is the deeper meaning for you?
Z: It is more my obsession with the bigger picture. Marc Jacobs is not the designer for Louis Vuitton, he is the creative director. He is in charge of everything that breathes LV; bags, shoes and hats…the overall aspect. Below him are designers and he approves what is a “go”. One day I will sit as the head of Skorzch and creatively direct those around me.
N: So the future of Skorzch is this global brand. Do you currently have any expansion plans?
Z: There have been a couple of offers, especially after fashion week of people wanting to be a part of the brand. However, I am not ready. Secondly the market is not mature enough as yet, and thirdly I want to build Skorzch to be known by everybody, but not to be worn by everybody. Brands that people aspire to, that only at a certain point in their lives will they then be eligible to wear the brand. I have this precious jewel and as much as I want to share it with the world, I am in no rush and no one is going to steal it away. More importantly I am working on my skill; I want it to be impeccable, on point. Once you start mass producing, you lose the power to create something that is authentic. I would like to brand the South African market and be home-grown, a well-respected tailor, someone who knows how to make a good suit.
N: Like a South African Oswald Boetang.
Z: (laughs) Exactly and to achieve that. It even took years for him. To get to the point when you walk out in a suit and without even looking at the branding you know it is a Skorzch suit. Once I’m there I’ll start thinking about branching out.
N: Do you have a particular time frame you would like to accomplish that in?
Z: I don’t have a limited period, but I know God has always surprised me when it comes to time. I could say 5 years and God says “no, I’ll give it to you in 5 months”.
N: Winning the Renault search, what were your prizes and what has that done for your brand?
Z: Well for one, we got a fashion mentor from fashion week, R 25 000, a car (he says modestly), being invited to showcase again at fashion week this year, a website from Renault and much more than that. The exposure is the biggest thing. I have received e-mails from companies in London commending me on my line, guys in New York who say they have been following my brand and are proud of me. Saying they can’t wait for me to showcase that side and I do pray it comes to that. There has also been a variety of photographers and magazines that have shown interest in working with me. Even the amount of re-blogs, I would be searching for trends online and see something that I have created.
N: so keeping in mind the brand and the vision, what is Skorzch suit and who is the Skorzch man?
Z: I will tell you just a couple of things that come to mind. What inspires me when creating; Sydney Opera House, Mercedes Benz, the ocean, white sand, crystal pool, classic, jazz, Kanye West, James Bond, Bentley, Rolls Royce and sushi among others. The Skorzch man loves style, but he is not into fashion. He doesn’t have to be rich; he just has that mentality of aspiring to be something greater than himself. Then there’s the established guy, who is looking for that look of elegance, which is timeless and that he can pass down to his son. He respects himself and the way he dresses. A man with pride and maturity.
N: (giggles) I really like that guy. In your collection you used some unusual and vibrant colours, what inspired those?
Z: We had a theme that we had to adhere to. During the course of the competition they played us a video of the Renault concept cars, played to a Kanye West sound track and we had to describe what it meant to us. The cars were really classy, in your face and bright. That is how I described it and afterwards they told us that what we had described is the theme we must use, so I was lucky in that the description I gave fitted my style. My collection had to speak to the judges about the Renault brand and also about me and what I do. The blazers where a dark tone, which was class and Skorzch, while the pants were bright and flashy which was Renault.
N: How did you come to hear about the Renault competition?
Z: Funny story, someone posted the link on my Facebook page on Tuesday while the competition closed that Friday and said I should check it out. We had to submit a portfolio, which I had no idea how to compile. I went to CNA and bought a black sheet of paper and pasted some of my stuff (material sketches) and wrote a page of what it is I do. I then went to SAFW offices and dropped it off. I left it there amongst so many huge and professionally made portfolios. 15th of July 2012 I’m driving down to Durban for the Durban July and Deon Chang calls me. I went crazy, I knew why he was calling-they liked my work and I had made it to the top 6. 19 August was the induction and I met the other designers, we were give a budget of R 2000, which is not nearly enough for a man’s suit let alone a collection, but I was excited nonetheless and I gave it my best shot. It was all pretty hectic, with a judging panel that included; Deon Chang, Black Coffee, Ryan from the fashion council in Cape Town and the marketing director from Renault.
N: It was serious game on!
Z: Yes. I mean the day before we showed, we were making final touches and the shoes for the models were coming in from Cape Town. Then two days before the show, there was the truck drivers’ strike-a series of events unfolded- and we had no shoes until an hour before the judging. Everything came together well and the models totally embodied the brand. The rusty suite-“the closing piece”-the price of making it was equivalent to all the other suites put together, but that suit was what we needed to win.
N: Outside the brand, who is Zano?
Z: (laughs) I am the brand…I am really good at talking about Skorzch, not so much about myself. For one I’m obsessed with what I do; I’m always thinking Skorzch-when I’m excited and when I’m praying. Other than that; I am a very chilled kind of guy, very shy-I don’t like standing in front of a crowd. I love dressing up, I like looking good, I do it for myself, even on days when I’m not going anywhere. I discover things I want to do in life. I want to leave a legacy for my family-to be known for making great suits. Be a motivational speaker, a musician, TV has come up lately. I am very reserved; secretive about personal things. I love my own space and time and I enjoy being around chilled people, like the guys from The Soil. I don’t like being the centre of attention or even attention being drawn to my brand-people should just notice it as it speaks for itself. I’m single, no baby, I’m straight! (laughs). I’m just a chilled guy, who wants to be a role model and an icon for the Xhosa clan, Christian people and my work. And to do that I need to walk the path that God agrees with and what He has set out for me.
N: Do you pray for everything in advance?
Z: I don’t generally sit down and pray-which I’m working on. I always give praise though-when I’m tailoring, when I’m driving-I capitalise on moments when I’m really excited and give shout outs to God. For me, it is a continuous conversation with Him. It is a case of acknowledging Him in everything.
N: That is wonderful. Ok to you, what makes a good suit?
Z: The beholder for one. The proportions need to be right. It is like leggings; you need to look good without them for them to look good on you (laughs). There are a lot of technical aspects. The first thing I check for are the shoulders; how well are they sitting and how rounded are they? Then I go down with it; is it flat on the chest? Then the length of the jacket-I do not like short blazers, they are not elegant enough. The pants must sit well, not too high and not too low, not too tight around the crotch either. Then they must just flow to the tip of your heel and not bulk at the bottom. Also the fabric must work,it does not matter how well you tailor, if the fabric does not allow it then it just will not work. Tailoring is like a potter, you tell the clay what to do, the same with good fabric.
N: Do you make suits for women and will they be showing this year?
Z: Yes I do, but I won’t be showcasing any suits for women. I want to establish myself as a menswear brand and be known for making quality suits for men. I feel that portion of the industry has not been taken captive of and I would like to push that market.
N: What can we expect from you at this year’s SAFW?
Z: At the moment we are 2 months shy of fashion week so I have to get moving and bring the ideas to life. This year will be about the brand, as we do not have a theme like we last year; it just has to be a spring/summer collection. So we are branding Skorzch. We are going to tone down colour, keeping the same silhouette, but playing around with a couple of designs, so expect some slight variations. We will play with jackets, tweaking the proportions as there is a certain look that I am going for. It is going to be elegant, neat and flawless. I want a range that you can walk straight from the ramp, into the streets, straight into the boardroom, right into a meeting, to a wedding or photo-shoot. Not something that needs some pieces to be substituted so that it works outside.
N: Pristine and elegant-I love it. Head stylist for Soil, how did that come about?
Z: I was in the Vaal last year February and I was looking for accommodation for my sister who was going to start varsity that side. I had no car and had been walking around in the scorching heat for about 6 hours and naturally I was dressed up. Nearing Vaal University, Sipho walks across the street towards me and says he likes my suit and asked where I got it. I told him I made it myself and he proceeded to ask if I know about The Soil. I said yes, he told me they were having a shoot in two days’ time and asked if I would be interested in styling them. The following day I arrived with everything I had, I did not know anyone’s size but I was not about to let this opportunity slide. They loved the collection. At the video shoot, 2am that time, they said they like my stuff and wanted me to be their stylist and that was it.
The Soil dressed by Skorzch.
N: Your life is just too cool, in that it just writes itself like that. What is the one truth you hold onto?
Z: I would say God- I can prove it, I can back it up. When no one else believed in me, when I could not even sew a straight line, God was there. When I have been excited, the Holy Spirit has been there with me. I remember one day I was left alone sewing and it had never ever snowed in my town and that day it did. I do not care what it meant to anyone else, but to me it was that confirmation that I was on the right track, doing the right thing. Even before fashion week, a few bad things had happened and all through choosing fabrics I was just worshiping. He is one guy who has never left and He has bigger plans. He will never let me down and I always aspire to be that person. If I could create a suit that could personify what Jesus means to us I would, but I can’t. I would like for someone to one day have a testimony through one of my suits.
N: If you may complete the sentence “I believe I was made for a time such as this because…”
Z: “…Every gentleman needs a tailored suit” (laughs). If everyone could understand the power of a suit. For years it has been the symbol of wealth, power, strength, a symbol of stability…every woman wants a man whose got that and every man should strive for that. Every man should strive to be a Skorzch gentleman.