Petite, stylish from top to toe and sporting the coolest pair of animal-print sneakers, Zenobia greets me with friendly eyes (from beneath her self-made buff). “You know, sneakers are the easiest way to juggle being a mom stylishly,” she laughs. She is wearing a black T-shirt branded with her logo that reads “Zenobia Thys Couture” in gold lettering.
“I love dressing up, so I made these shirts to pair with other items I’ve made and it helps people notice and ask the right questions,” she says. Not only is Zenobia a highly skilled designer and a creative spirit (even her sketchbooks are dressed up with material and lace), she also has a head for marketing!
Her studio is in what once used to be her room in her mother’s house – where she grew up. She now lives a few blocks away with her husband and two children – and it’s so special for her to still be able to come back to the space where it all started.
For as long as she can remember, she has loved dressing up (and dressing others up as well). “My Barbies and dolls had outfits for every occasion.” Zenobia used any piece of fabric or even a pair of pantyhose to make sure they were “dressed to a T”. “My poor sister! Family gatherings always ended up in some sort of fashion show.”
Zenobia selected her school subjects to enable her to study physiotherapy, but in her matric year, she told her mother that she was thinking of pursuing a career in fashion instead. “My parents have always been supportive and always told us to just do our best,” she says. She went on to study Clothing Production at Boland College in Paarl and has lovely memories of this time. “We were about 30 people selected for the course, but at the end of the course, only six of us finished. It was hectic.” She can remember finishing up her final range at 04:00 in the morning, with the help of her parents.
She then went on to work in retail. “I wanted to learn more about the customer’s experience.” She was an expert at window dressing – and the items she selected (and in which she dressed the dolls) kept on selling out! “I learnt a lot during this time. I didn’t just want to make sales, I wanted people to feel good about themselves.”
And this still rings true for her today. “One thing that I’ve learnt is that as women (especially), we are all different, we are all unique – but there’s that one thing we all have in common – and this is our insecurity about ourselves. Whether we are size 6, 44 or some cover model, we all have a little something. And that’s okay,” she believes. When a customer steps out of her studio, she wants him/her to feel better than they did when they entered it. “I want to amplify someone’s beautiful features, help them understand their body – just the way it is and give them the confidence to feel good!” She’s been working on Zenobia Thys Couture for the past five years and focuses on custom design pieces, evening wear, cocktail dresses, wedding attire and recently also buffs and masks.
Her advice to any budding entrepreneur? “Do not give up in what you believe in. Turn every stumbling block into a stepping stone. Curveballs are part of the dance,” she says. “The days I feel my worst, I try to dress up – and look my best. Do the things that get you through.”
Zenobia is grateful for the meaningful and continuing mentorship she is receiving from the Ranyaka community. “Their workshops also make a huge difference – I’ve attended a financial planning one and it really helped me to shift my focus. It really helps to set you up for success.”
Now you know who to contact if you’re after a stylish look or a mask for every day of the week.
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Images: Lizelle Lötter Photography