African designer's vibrant plus-size clothes gain fans around the globe

19 October 2017 - 12:16 By Siphiliselwe Makhanya
A design from the Mobu by Melo range.
A design from the Mobu by Melo range.
Image: Kgomotso Neto

A Basotho folk tale's ending is what inspired womenswear designer Mamello Mosase's current range of pretty print dresses.

Seilatsatsi oa Mohale was a beautiful woman born through magic who was forbidden to walk in daylight. When she finally did, for the love of a man, the magic through which she was made turned against her. The story ends with Seilatsatsi healed through sacrifice.

Mosase, who created the brand Mobu by Melo, is both magician and muse behind the Seilatsatsi range.

"Growing up my cousins called me Seilatsatsi and I never knew why until I decided to do research on it one day and I identified it so much with my clothing," says Mosase, who envisions the character as a "beautiful big woman", like those she designs for.

"I'm not sure if I chose my design background or if it chose me. I was raised by a mother who designed and had her clothes made by a seamstress. My grandmother taught me how to crochet and the lady next door taught me how to hand-sew.

"I have always known that I don't want to look ordinary, and as a plus-size woman I've also always known that I want to look as stylish and as African as I can all the time. This has been the case since I could dress myself and subsequently when I established my target market."

I have always known that I don't want to look ordinary, and as a plus-size woman I've also always known that I want to look as stylish and as African as I can all the time
Mamello Mosase

Mobu by Melo operates primarily through social media, reaching clients as far afield as China, England and the US.

Mosase will show at Fashion Week in Brussels, Belgium at the end of the month.

The rejection of her work by a mainstream design collective brand strengthened her resolve to get her creations out independently. She was told, she says, that her work was not "sexy, young and trendy".

"But a few days later they had one of my designs done by their designer in a smaller size. We are still confused," she says.

For Mosase, making things is an expression of faith. "My brand got its name after my father taught me to recognise God in the soil. Without soil there is no life, and there are so many gifts that come from respecting that. I respect my craft so much that's its actually spiritual for me. A design is like a prayer to me."

Mobu by Melo will be showing at the upcoming Fashion Week in Brussels.
Mobu by Melo will be showing at the upcoming Fashion Week in Brussels.
Image: Kgomotso Neto
A design in the Mobu by Melo range.
A design in the Mobu by Melo range.
Image: Kgomotso Neto

She taps into the power of the bartering economy to pull together the Seilatsatsi look-book - photographer Kgomotso Neto is the creative eye behind the gorgeous images of models Thandanani Maluleke, Tuwelo Wesi, Khanyisa Hlungwane, Lerato Mofomme,and Awande Zwane. Lethabo Ngakane did the creative direction.

Mosase's works come in limited ranges but she makes exceptions for certain requests. Find her work on Instagram and Facebook.

• This article was originally published in The Times.