From living on the streets to owning them. This is how you stitch a success story


The streets of Hillbrow are bursting with life. Motorists hoot at each other, vendors exchange stories, and like busy worker ants, people pass by. Amid the bustle, Ntsikelelo Solani is working in an open steel shipping container that serves as the fashion designer’s studio. His fingers dance to the rhythm of his stitch. Solani is putting together the finishing touches on a leather bow tie – his signature item. With a snip of the thread, he smiles. It’s finally ready. But the calm reflected in his eyes hasn’t always been there. Despite his thriving business today, these alleyways were once the only bed Solani had to sleep on.

After studying beadwork, design, and leathercraft, Solani moved to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth with grand visions of opening a business. He had talent, and mountains of faith. “Since I was young, I knew there was something special about me,” Solani says. But then things began to go awry. “I didn’t know how to manage my money,” he says. With no cash and no place to live, he was left homeless in Hillbrow. Though he faced a harsh reality, Solani refused to be knocked down by fortune’s hand. “Living in the streets never really got in my way because of the artist within me,” he says. Determined, Solani made his way back to college to stitch his life back together. “With education I was able to launch my own brand, Shaka Xhosa,” he says. And with his own label, Solani is re-establishing himself with a style true to the jazzy designer he has always been at heart.

Solani’s distinctive leather pieces have travelled from this concrete jungle to the glass counters of London. But it’s the streets of Johannesburg that matter the most – this is the city that witnessed Solani fall to his lowest point, and the hotbed from which he’s rising again. “With a little bit of help, everyone can become who they are destined to become,” he says. For Solani, his profound optimism is the central thread in the fabric of his life. “This,” he says, “is the beginning of my story.”