Papama Mtwisha has been a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry for two decades and is the businesswoman behind the iconic brands Africa Your Time Is Now and Butter Pudding. With an intelligent and creative mind that stretches across styling, designing, and cultural entrepreneurship, she has worked with many publications, television shows, and an impressive long list of private and commercial clients.
Butter Pudding is a children’s clothing brand that was inspired by her two daughters and the kids she was surrounded by. Africa Your Time Is Now (AYTIN) is a brand that celebrates Africa and declares the continent’s great potential and power to be a force of culture in this known world.
As part of the IQOQO Sessions held at the Keyes Art Mile in August 2023, Mtwisha shared how she found her path in fashion.
Papama Mtwisha: My journey is a lovely story about a girl from the Eastern Cape who had massive dreams and has now ended up here. I was born in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) in the Eastern Cape and grew up in Cape Town. I was a very smart kid and skipped two grades, which means that I was always the youngest in my classes at primary school, high school, tertiary, and in other areas later. I was also very creative. On my 21st birthday, my aunt shared with me that I used to cut out pictures from magazines and paste them in empty notebooks to create my own magazines. As I got older, I remixed my clothes by cutting them up or adding things to them.
It was the early 1990s, and pursuing a creative career was not seen as a viable option by most parents. Despite facing opposition from her parents, Mtwisha decided to pursue a degree in fashion. Although the road was not easy, she took a chance and persevered through the uncertainty.
Papama Mtwisha: I got in at LISOF, the London International School of Fashion, and I was there for a week because back then, in 1999, their syllabus was very specific: they were teaching people like me how to be a haute couturist.
There was a fashion department at Wits Tech, now UJ. I went there that week and met Desmond, who used to teach the theory of fashion. He told me that one does not simply show up; there are processes to follow to be accepted at the school, certain subjects that one should have done in high school. We had a conversation, and although I hadn’t done any of that, he took a chance on me. He said, “There’s something I see in you.”
That is the best thing that could have happened because I decided I didn’t want to embarrass him; I had a point to prove when I got to school, and I put my best foot forward all the way. My collection won best collection in the first year. Someone from the SABC was in the audience of that event, and they were looking for a stylist for the music show Technics Heart of The Beat. I was going to style Bonnie Mbuli, who was the presenter.
I studied for three years, and then in my third year, I interned at True Love magazine as part of the third-year syllabus. On the third day, I got offered a job as a fashion assistant, which I could not accept because I had to graduate from school. After graduating, I got a job at a factory that made corporate uniforms. On the 27th day, I resigned because that was not for me; it was not what I wanted to do. On the same day as my resignation, I got a call from True Love about the job I couldn’t accept before, and that’s how my magazine career began.
An undeniable combination of hard work, determination, and talent had put Mtwisha on the path to success.
Papama Mtwisha: I knew fashion was what I wanted to do, what I was meant to do. For me, fashion is not a job; it really is a calling. I worked my way up from being the fashion assistant to the fashion editor and then to fashion director. It was the best job because it gave me such a beautiful vantage point of the fashion industry. I had to deal with retailers, designers, and all of it. After resigning from True Love, I freelanced for magazines My Weekly, Cosmo, Femina, Oprah, and Tribute to get as much experience as I wanted.
With enough experience in magazines, I went into fashion in music. I worked for Sony, working with Joyous Celebration. I made their outfits for several years. Then, I worked with Mafikizolo and all the bands under Sony. I also wanted to do fashion in television, so I worked in wardrobe for different TV shows.
It was time for Mtwisha to think about the next step in an already thriving career, was she ready to start her own business?
Papama Mtwisha: Around the ages of 23 to 25, I wanted to start my own company. I was done working for other people. The year was 2007, and I was going to start a fashion consultancy when I got a call from Khanyi Dhlomo, who used to be my editor at True Love and was starting her own media company called Ndalo Media, asking me if I was keen on being part of the team.
I met with her, and she showed me her business concept. There were two reasons I decided to put my plans on hold. One was that her corporate colours matched my corporate colours. Number two, I could learn a lot working with a startup and get the courage and experience to use those skills and knowledge for my own company. I was at Ndalo Media for nine years, even though I planned to be there for only five years.
Whilst I was there, she started a company called Ndalo Luxuries, which was behind Luminance – a luxury concept store in Hyde Park, that I was the creative director and buyer for. That is the job that single-handedly changed my trajectory and my whole life. I was at Ndalo Luxuries, specifically, for three years. I got to travel the world in ways that I never thought possible. It was because the concept store was working with so many brands – the brands that I had studied about in fashion design school. I met the most incredible faces in fashion, like Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, and Givenchy. For all of it, I was there. Every six months, I was in New York, Paris, London, or Milan, doing fashion week and buying. This set the tone for me and showed me what else was there. Then, I got to dream even bigger.
And then it was time for Mtwisha to take a very big leap of faith, seven years in the making.
Papama Mtwisha: From all the work that I had done, I knew the business that I started needed to encompass all of my passions and one of them was kids. I have two kids that I birthed and five godchildren. I merged my two passions, children and fashion, and started a kiddies’ brand called Butter Pudding, which I registered in 2014. I started quitting my jobs in 2016 because I needed to be able to focus entirely.
This had been a concept in my iPad for seven years before I took a leap of faith to do something about it. This was after a conversation with my brother-in-law, who was surprised that my idea was still in the concept phase. I can only think that it was fear, which many people suffer from: worrying about what people will say, if it fails, dealing with imposter syndrome and so forth. Part of what debilitated me was that it was a massive concept, and I had many considerations, such as how I would fund this, my kids, the bond and school fees. I could not just jump ship and do what I would have done when I was younger.
I started the business, and it was the best decision because I have been so supported. The Butter Pudding kiddies brand was all about changing the narrative. When I used to shop for my kids, I couldn’t find what I was looking for, which was clothes that were unique and made locally. If I did, it was either the quality was not great, or if it was beautiful, it was expensive. So, I started my brand.
Three years later, with the success of Butter Pudding in her back pocket, Mtwisha founded Africa Your Time Is Now – now a global movement.
Papama Mtwisha: Africa Your Time Is Now is a brand that has existed since 2017. I ended up being at the forefront, or the custodian, for a powerful truth because I always tell people that we are in the business of spreading a powerful truth more than selling clothes. That is why we do what we do. We have merchandise that is worn with such pride because it carries this truth.
The kind of feedback we get from people who have come repeatedly to get our product is humbling. Africa, it’s our time. It’s always been our time. The reception for this brand has been validating, proving that this is way bigger than me – the girl from the Eastern Cape who had a big dream.
The brand has been around for six years and is available worldwide. Everyone who buys into the brand or is recruited into the team must first believe in its message.
If there is anything we can learn from her journey thus far, Mtwisha says that it is to trust yourself and pursue your dreams.
Papama Mtwisha: If there is anything you can take away from what I have said, just believe in your dreams and the message inside you. Don’t seek validation from other people. Many people told me this and that, asking questions like, “Why would you want to start a kiddies brand when there are so many that already exist?” Something in me said, “Just start.”
I had no idea that the kiddies brand would birth Africa Your Time Is Now, and I had no idea that Africa Your Time Is Now would do what it has been doing for the last seven years. So, trust your gut. Know that you are here to live your dream because everyone has it, and it is unique to each of us. Trust yourself and follow through.