Ikleri Store: Re-defining Eswatini’s Urban Fashion Scene

By Tikoletfu ‘La Don’ Mahlalela

Having hit the streets a little over a year ago, Ikeri Store’s wide assortment of home grown clothing products have been steadily winning the hearts of trendy urban youths and lovers of casual fashion in the country.

The brand’s founder Melusi Mnisi is more often than not to be found tending the shop located in Manzini, juggling his time between being a clothing outlet owner, creative designer and running a thriving transport logistics business known as Earthquake Transport.

Ikleri Store has stuck to its guns in empowering talented creatives and being a go-to outlet for local fashionistas. With ownership and legacy being key words that drive the brand, huge strides have been made in merging collective efforts with other local designers and brands.

Some of the well-known local brands to be found on the Ikleri Store shelves include Mark Swag (a much loved classic rightly famed for their durability and for making their garments from scratch), Vintage Luxe (now known as Vintage Eswatini), Touch of Soul (by famed South Africa based Eswatini deejay, Dj Touch of Soul, popularly recognized as TOS), Urban Jungle (a brand owned by TV personality Elfoe Masilela) and others.

We had the pleasure of having a chat with the man behind the vision, Melusi, also known as Spyda. 

Thank you for having this chat with us Melusi. Can you tell us what inspired this business which is pretty unique in the local sense?

I started the business because of my love for fashion, in particular Eswatini fashion brands. I’ve always had an obsession with fashion from a young age. I’ve also always been inspired by the hustlers on the streets doing their thing, pushing their brands and businesses. However, I noticed a gap in terms of accessibility.

As someone who loves and supports local clothing brands I found that I couldn’t always locate or find the brand or item of clothing I was looking for. This made me realize that surely there were other people who shared this problem, and so the concept of having a centralized shop that housed local clothing brands was born. We have now been operational for a little over a year, having opened shop in April 2022.

Who are the brains and team behind Ikleri Store?

Okay, so I conceptualized the business and I wasn’t aware that this was a concept that already existed elsewhere. It was only once I was firmly in the business that I realized that there were other businesses who were doing something similar or the same.

Initially, I thought about the idea and I approached a number of people who also felt that it was a viable concept and business proposition, and while they may not be part of the business, I still appreciate their advice and kind words of support. I’d also like to take a shout out to ‘Sgonia’ of Sgonian Republik for being an inspiration to the business through his similarly styled fashion house.

In terms of our team, I am the founder and creative director and I work with a team that includes my stylist and designer, and then it’s the group of brands that we work with in the shop.

Speaking of brands you work with, can you tell us more about who these brands are?

So when I started out I had the vision that we could have at least 20 local clothing brands in the shop because I could easily name upwards of twenty local brands myself. This was mainly due to the fact that my wardrobe was already made up of about ninety-five percent local brands.

I soon realized, however, that it was not as simple as just calling up all the brands you know. So, currently the brands we work with are Mark Swag, Playdout, Vintage Eswatini, Urban Jungle Gear, Touch of Soul (TOS), and more recently, No Limit brand. We also have our own in-house Ikleri clothing brand.

What is your policy or quality control process, if for instance, I am a local brand that wants to be on your shelves, how do I go about doing that?

To get into Ikleri Store the clothing has to be of high quality and the branding has to be unique and authentic. Then we need you to be a good marketer who is serious about pushing the brand. You should be passionate and serious about your brand.

You sometimes get people entering this space for the wrong reasons such as fame or to make quick money. As Ikleri we don’t encourage what I’d call ‘fly by night brands’. You have to love clothing and be in it for the long haul because like in any business, there will be ups and downs. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you won’t make it.

Let’s take it back for a bit. Is this your first business venture? Can you tell us about your entrepreneurship journey?

I was actually unexpectedly flung into the world of business. My father passed away in 2015 and upon his passing I had to leave school in South Africa to be with the family. Initially, this was supposed to be for a short period of putting certain affairs in order and so on. However, it soon came to light that our father had left his business to me and my brother.

This was a business in the transportation and logistics space. Now, neither I nor my brothers had any experience in running a business, let alone having knowledge of the transport industry.

But as a family we collectively felt that we should give it our best shot, as young and inexperienced as we re were, that would be better that just letting the business die a natural death, as it were. As you can imagine, this was a difficult time, because I wasn’t prepared for this and in fact my career in South Africa was about to take off.

Anyway, as I immersed myself in the business, a number of things started occurring to me, my thinking changed. When you’re in the business space you try and educate yourself as much as you can and one of the things that I learnt which has stayed with me is the issue of legacy. This is a big issue, particularly in the black community.

Often times you find that when a parent or founder of a business passes way, the business dies with them. I found that to be a challenge and a shift of mindset in not wanting to be in that stat sheet, and instead look at the business as legacy-building, being in a position to create a legacy for future generations, in the same model as most of the world’s most successful businesses.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt on your journey, perhaps something you wish you had known in your earlier years?

Pheew, that’s a hard one. It feel likes that’s an ever moving target. However, I’d say the toughest and biggest thing I’ve learnt was overcoming fear. Fear was the one thing I battled with a lot. It’s also something a lot of people struggle with. People are generally afraid to start. People are afraid to implement the dreams they may have. That was a big thing for me to overcome.

Lastly, Melusi, what does the future hold for the business and the brand?

I would have to say that the future has a lot in store for us and we’re excited about what the future holds. Looking back on what we have achieved in only a year, we can only be grateful for the support we have received and we aim to pay back that love we’ve received by delivering more quality and offerings. We are hoping to solidify our name in the local fashion space, and thereafter take over the world.

Thank you so much for your Melusi. We wish you and the team all the best.

You are most welcome.

[NB: You can watch the full interview with Melusi, Tiko on ‘The Next Thing That’s Gonna Blow Up! Podcast’ with Kudzai Mushambi. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhQTYZO1RgA&t=321s]

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