Seam dreams: Designer Pfadzani Exodus checks corporate wear designed by Exodus International. Picture: SUPPLIED
Seam dreams: Designer Pfadzani Exodus checks corporate wear designed by Exodus International. Picture: SUPPLIED

In 2009 Pfadzani Exodus resigned from her job as an engineer and started a new career as a high-end fashion designer. For years, her friends had been huge fans of her beautiful creations and they were even beginning to receive rave reviews from fashion writers.

The National Empowerment Fund, established by the government to help visionary entrepreneurs start their business, provided her with start-up capital. She hasn’t looked back.

She found a well-positioned retail space at the upmarket mall The Zone in Rosebank, where she launched the fashion boutique Exodus by Huyu Houz in 2012. Pop star and actress Kaybee performed at the launch to an audience comprised of journalists, fashion leaders and local celebrities.

Born Pfadzani Mphanama, the fashion designer — who grew up in the village of Gondeni — adopted Exodus as a surname "because I simply prefer it".

"For the first 12 months, Exodus by Huyu Houz did impressively well with regards to foot traffic, and for all intents and purposes, I was well set for a promising career as a clothing designer," she says.

Exodus in her Doornfontein factory.  Picture: SUPPLIED
Exodus in her Doornfontein factory. Picture: SUPPLIED

There are several interruptions during her interview as she interacts with her staff at her Doornfontein factory, who are under pressure to meet yet another delivery deadline.

The world of fashion is worlds apart from mixing industrial chemicals in a laboratory as an engineer.

"In my family we are six children, and I am the one who always loved fashion. I even made fashion items from plastic as a child," she says.

"When I was an engineering student at the University of Johannesburg, I was always referred to as that girl who liked dressing fashionably. Many fellow students thought I was a model."

Exodus says life was good after she quit engineering and opened her boutique. Customers came to look at and buy her stylish outfits for men and women. "I was happy I was doing something that I actually liked," she says.

But sales started to dry up and the business closed down towards the end of 2010.

"I ran short of stock, my customers started to complain, foot traffic dwindled and there was rent and salaries to pay. This is why it became important for me to own a factory so I could be in complete charge of the whole value chain," she says.

Crushed but not defeated, she did not give up her dream of making it in the competitive fashion industry.

"I realised that instead of taking baby steps, I had decided to gallop, and that is not wise in this industry," Exodus says.

"You cannot start at the very top, and that is the mistake I made. I had been aiming at the very top of the fashion industry, instead of starting at the bottom and steadily growing."

When her first endeavour failed, Exodus used the experience to propel her to try again, vowing that she would work harder and smarter.

Business mentors

"After going back into engineering briefly and later television production, just to earn a living while taking stock of what had happened and what might have gone wrong, I came back into the fashion industry stronger and wiser in 2013," she says.

"I had to look for mentors, and that is when I approached veteran fashion designers Pamela and Helmut Schweitzer, who owned Sew For Africa, a factory designing and manufacturing corporate clothing," she says.

"I used to have my designs manufactured there while I was running my boutique. I gave them a proposal and they liked my idea. They suggested that I learn from them.

"They trained me in all aspects of the fashion business, from designing to operations."

The British couple did not want the business to die and looked no further than one of their employees, Exodus, to keep their dreams alive.

They turned down higher offers for the business from other investors until Exodus raised the finance that allowed her to buy it.

"When they offered me the opportunity to buy the business from them I did not hesitate as I had been skilled in all aspects of the business and it gave me an opportunity to explore high-end fashion design again.

"Now I am wiser and more experienced and I am designing clothing for several clients including South African Airways, Bidvest and the City of Joburg’s Rea Vaya bus service.

"I am also supplying fellow designers including fashion icons David Tlale and Gert-Johan Coetzee."

Sew For Africa was renamed Exodus International, and the company has a solid reputation as designers, manufacturers and suppliers of quality, durable clothing to companies wanting to improve their image, protect their staff and market their brands.

"We produce for retail, boutiques, corporate, hospitality industry, fashion houses, private and public sectors. We are famous for our quality output," Exodus says.

"We are masters of pleating, and covering belts and buttons. We are the only company in Gauteng that does belt covering and our competitors are in Durban. Our pleating techniques date back to the 1960s and our competitors are in Cape Town with limited skills and techniques.

"Simplicity is difficult to achieve, but we strive for it continuously," says Exodus.

For corporate wear Exodus International specialises in protective wear, dresses, skirts, trousers, shirts and trousers for women and men, while their high-end fashion includes suits, Cuban shirts, scarves, cushions and belts.

"For belts and cushions, we recycle using off-cuts and we call this line of work Exodus Green. It is in line with the principles of the green economy increasingly practised by responsible companies globally to contribute to a clean environment, instead of polluting by throwing away fashion left-overs as waste," Exodus says.

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