AYA EDIT – IN CONVERSATION WITH TSELI. M – EDUCATING THE WORLD ABOUT LESOTHO’S HERITAGE AND CULTURE
It was exciting to get insights into what makes Tseli. M, and its founder, Matesliso Mphaka, tick. Technical hiccups aside, Matesliso is not a fan of the traditional format of interviews but prefers free-flowing conversations where she can convey her passion for what she does and what she wants her brand to achieve:
“…The brand (Tseli. M) is about educating the world about our little country (Lesotho)……It’s a segue about teaching people about our language and our culture….. “
The pronunciation of her brand name (pronounced Tsidi), like her name, is a great conversation starter and quickly veers into the rich linguistic tapestry of the Basotho people. Every time she gets an opportunity to talk about her beautiful landlocked country, she becomes animated and does not gloss over its challenges and how it can assert itself more forcefully in the minds of people, globally.
Since late 2016, Matesliso has called Maseru and Lesotho home after having spent her formative years and early adulthood in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape in South Africa. Her return to the land of her birth and ancestors has been revelatory to her work, to the extent that Tseli. M accessories have been forged and inspired by the mokorotlo (the Basotho traditional hat).
Before she committed herself fully to making Tseli. M a global brand, Matesliso was a lecturer. Transferring knowledge and how she articulates her vision for the Tseli. M brand and Lesotho come so naturally to her. These personal attributes make her a phenomenal conversationalist and accessory designer.
This is how Matesliso recalls the process of getting to where she is today:
“…Design was never a path of mine, I did art in high school, but was intrigued by medicine and in particular cosmetic surgery…….. “
Her initial ambition was to study towards a medical degree and focus on cosmetic surgery; however, during a gap year, she started a jewelry design and manufacturing course at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). It was supposed to be only a year before commencing her medical studies, but she was so taken up by the coursework that after her third year she decided to take up a fashion qualification and later worked in the fashion industry for one year in Cape Town.
This is why Matesliso is compelled to do what she does:
“….When you visit your culture, you become so fascinated and intrigued by it, but when you are living in the country of your origin, there is so much more that you are exposed to… kind of like gold mines if you will…. Because I grew up in KZN, I was surrounded by the Zulu culture, and went to Cape Town which is a melting pot of cultures, when you come back home you rediscover your roots essentially….”
This is why she deliberately works with people in the mountain districts of Lesotho. These areas of the country predominantly rely on cattle herding as a means of generating an income but the people are well-versed in the art of weaving with straw. It is an age-old craft that has been passed on from generation to generation, which is something Matesliso wishes to preserve.
The “Seshoeshoe” or the Basotho traditional garment industry has grown steadily over the past few years, but the accessories industry (jewelry, bags, etc.) is yet to gain a sizeable footing in the country. This presents challenges for local accessory craft-makers like Tseli. M, who have to contend with a lack of stock and high input costs.
But this has not discouraged the Tseli. M brand from trying to reach diverse audiences:
“….I am a very proud Mosotho, I am very taken in my culture and heritage. The aim of the brand is to educate the world and put Lesotho on the map…. But we are also about quality and durability.. this can be a generational product that can be passed on, from mother to daughter, father to son, so on and so forth…… The target audience is someone who appreciates and understands quality…. People who appreciate a Pan African brand and appreciate the artistry behind producing a product that is inspired by tradition and culture….”
Matesliso laments that the textile industry in Lesotho is largely run by foreign firms, but says that the best thing about COVID-19 was the closure of these firms has forced the government to invest in its people. We can only hope that a new generation of creatives emerges from these investments and propel Lesotho’s cultural brand and craftsmanship onto the biggest catwalks and retailer showrooms around the world.
For more information about Tseli. M, please reach out to us.