ShweShwekini swimwear and activewear is the brainchild of 25-year-old Refiloe Mapitso Thaisi who is currently in the final stretch of her Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) in Human Rights Law at The University Of Cape Town.
What was your first ever job?
When I was fifteen years old I worked as a promoter and that was my very first source of income. There I learnt the value of great customer service and how to sell a product.
When you were a little girl you wanted to be…
At first, I wanted to become a teacher and then when I realized how many grey hairs we gave our teachers, I later changed my mind in Grade 9 and decided that I wanted to become a psychologist.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I check my phone and press the snooze button (sometimes). When I eventually do get up, I say a short prayer of gratitude.
What’s your power outfit?
Anything with a touch of African print is my power outfit. There is just something about our patterns – the bold colours and eclectic designs that have the power to bring an outfit alive. Confidence in an African print outfit is always guaranteed.
What’s one thing that is always in your handbag?
My wallet, I cannot risk not having it with me.
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending quality by myself, I really enjoy my own company – I mostly spend time on my blog and reading books. I rarely watch TV because I like active ways of keeping my mind engaged.
I also love the outdoors so I sometimes take part in fun runs or marathons. I am also very energetic, so I love hiking (I have hiked up Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head, and also Silvermine Nature Reserve up to the Elephant’s Eye Cave).
Being female in Africa means…
Either I succumb to societal or traditional ideals of doing things – based on what is normalized and perceived as the standard, or I continue to challenge myself and enter into new territories while I still can in order to expand my pool of knowledge and experiences.
Tell us about your current job and how you got there?
I was tired of always having to fit into swimwear that never really satisfied me. After seeing other girls making swimwear out of their African prints, I also got inspired and I questioned if anyone had explored shweshwe in swimwear. So I did my research and when I could not find anything online and from local designers, I knew that this was my opportunity to explore and run with the idea.
The highlight of your career so far?
Quitting a stable job and pursuing my studies further. I took a risk there, but I just told myself that I was going for it. It was not easy, but eventually, I got my dream job, I passed all my courses and in the process, I also started my own creative venture.
Having the experience of working for an insurance company, this was always a dream job for me because sometimes in healthcare we tend to think that we are only limited to the clinical setting. So tapping into this territory has been a highlight for me, especially while I am still this young in my career.
I guess for ShweShweKini, it would be this feature.
If you were to choose a different career, what would it be?
I would definitely go into fashion and design full-time.
Best piece of advice you’ve received from another woman?
My mother gives the best advice. She always tells us to accept our circumstances for what they are because that is the birth place of self-acceptance, self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence.
She also recently told me that when people choose to let you go, allow them and see this as an opportunity to invite new people who will teach you greater things.
Any calming mantras you say to yourself before a stressful meeting?
I usually start with playing my favourite music on the way, it energizes me and when I get to the office or the meeting I say: “Girl somedays you got it, but today you absolutely have it, get your life!”
What does it mean to be a woman in this industry?
In all the fields that I work in, I see women taking the very vulnerable aspects of their being and turning it into powerful forces. Whether you are leading an organization, women are using tools such as empathy, respect and Ubuntu to build meaningful lasting relationships. In creative arts women are using their multi-tasking abilities to adapt and create new ways thinking or doing and of defining themselves. It is a fascinating era and I am so glad I live in these times.
Who were your role models growing up?
My mother, Oprah and Basetsana Khumalo. I later grew fond of Michelle Obama and Kerry Washington. Later in varsity, I was inspired by Thabo Makhetha. Then after varsity I learned about Swaady Martin and Khanyi Dlomo.
What makes you feel strong?
Knowing that I have times where I feel anxious, alone, weak and afraid to continue with many of my commitments motivates me to get up and go into the battle field. It is in that moment of choosing to get up and show up when it is really difficult, that I actually feel strong and courageous.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Always being the youngest in the team and trying to be taken seriously I often have to try and work twice as hard to prove that I am capable. Sometimes it is nice to be praised as a young black girl who excels in her work, but it also has a toll on power dynamics. Finding my passion and not just a job has been a tricky game.
How do you measure personal success and how do you stay motivated?
I measure my personal success by my proximity to my goals. The closer I get to a goal and even if it does not succeed, I use that as an indicator that it is possible to achieve the next goal with the right planning, motivation, grit and attention.
At the beginning of each year, I write down a few goals for myself in my diary for that year. I go and check on them from time to time to see how far I am. It is in that process of writing a specific goal down and measuring it that actually keeps me motivated.
What advice would you give women trying to get into this business?
To any woman looking for a job at the moment, do not give up, keep going, and know your value and what you bring to a company. Do not go in there begging, but make sure to make the other person feel that if they let you go, they are at a great loss.
For women looking to start a creative venture, first identify the need; find your niche no matter how small and your target market. Find a mentor, someone in your line of work or interest who has credible experience. The lovely thing about women is their willingness to help and to be a source of support to one another. I am blessed to have someone like Thabo Makhetha as my mentor.