Young and Lit: From dressing dolls to international sneaker brand

By Basetsana Makhalemele
Pics by Voight Mokone

Striking the perfect balance between making shoes from scratch and impeccable entrepreneurship is Lerato Senoko, founder of Bloemfontein based clothing and sneaker brand UNXPECTED.

For Lerato being in the fashion industry was no accident. She always loved fashion, she says, but as a child making clothes for her dolls, she never imagined that one day she would be creating sneakers for people.

Manufacturing sneakers was not her first when she started her business, she admits.

She recalls how she started out making caps and t-shirts after she completed her first diploma.

“It started as a cap and t-shirt production called Unexpected. But I didn’t want to buy t-shirts and print on them, I wanted to manufacture my own products,” she says.

Lerato then designed her own brand of t-shirts to differentiate herself from the rest of the t-shirt and cap salespeople and to change the game in this industry.

As her business grew she also looked at other possibilities to expand.

She says after seeing a gap in the footwear industry she decided to do some research and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands when she realized that women owned brands were few and far in between.

“I realized that it is a complex and difficult industry, but the more I researched and learned the more doable it was,” she says.

She decided to create the hand crafted UNX sneaker brand from her fashion line Unexpected.

Today Lerato creates stylish yet wearable footwear, already with three different styles that have different target markets.

She combines her passion for fashion and art. She says she draws her inspiration from her African environment and her Sesotho roots.

“UNX sneakers is for the youth, more relaxed and creative people who love unexpected designs and it is for both males and females,” says Lerato.

“The clothing brands are for women who love to be different and elegant,” she adds.

All her hard work paid off when Unxpected women’s wear was launched at the Torino fashion week 2018 in Italy.

In October 2018 UNX launched the range here in South Africa at the Mandela Fashion week in Port Elizabeth.

The company has even gone as far as creating special occasion, custom made garments, for weddings and matric farewell.

“Our designs will always have a dash of our Basotho culture because I’m a mosotho, the artistic flair is what makes our designs unexpected,” says Lerato.

Prayer and spending time with the Holy Spirit is what balances Lerato from all the responsibility that she has.

“I’m still learning how to juggle being  a women of God, mother, business women, daughter, friend, sister, a wife some day and still not losing myself in all of this,” say Lerato.

Industry challenge

According to Lerato the biggest challenge in the industry faced by women is having to always work extra hard to prove that you can do something without any favours.

“No woman should use their body to get any help, we are genuinely smart and God’s given talent is the one that will open doors for you,” she says.

In the next coming decade

She says her big dream is to see the UNX sneaker exported internationally especially on the continent.

But admittedly the real success will be measured by the reaction of consumers.

Unxpected’s core business is manufacturing and they are looking to expand in building a manufacturing fashion factory. 

“We are working towards manufacturing shoes, especially sneakers and our school shoes and distributing for retail stores as well,” she says.

She says the company is also planning to look at franchising their manufacturing company or opening factories around the world especially on the African continent.

Sound advice
Stay focused, write your vision and goals and focus on them, don’t move your focus, says Lerato.

There are going to be obstacles trying to shift your focus, she adds.

“Just believe in yourself first, trusting God with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, then all these things will fall into place, the resources, the right people, the finances. In time it shall come to pass,” she says.

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