My name is Victor Lekalakala but most of my friends call me Dada or Diablo, which is a Spanish word for Devil; an alter-ego that I picked up along the way. I am a 38 year old self employed hustler and father, currently residing in Ebony Park, Midrand. I was born in the 80’s, at Masakane clinic, ko the congested Alexandra township. However, at the time, my mother’s house was in Soweto, Meadowlands, Zone 9, so as soon as I arrived, we had immediately moved to that address. Apparently the law didn’t allow for my mother to be admitted in a Soweto hospital; something to do with a registered address not matching her physical address.
I started school at Tshimologo Primary school which was not very far from my house, however, I only attended grade one and two before we had to move back to Alexandra to live with my grandparents. I then had to attend school at Carter Primary and Alexandra High respectively.
Growing up I was always compared to my brother who, admittedly, lived a very colourful life. He was the kind of guy who was always on the move, never sitting in one place for more than it was necessary. Once, a group of angry students ruthlessly demolished my mother’s house all because of him. He had apparently been involved in some gang related activities. But at the time I was only five years old, still too young to understand anything.
At the dawn of democracy, while I was in my teens, a rise to new kinds of cultures and sub-cultures would see the birth of a localized version of hip hop which quickly became prominent amongst the youth. Back then it was very common, but still new, to see young boys walking in the streets with their pants sagging, while bouncing in a rhythmic motion as though listening to a song inside one’s head. I too was not exempt from following the trends. I started taking a serious liking to tattoos as a way to express myself. And I unfortunately also picked up some bad habits and some bad friends which led to my arrest before I could complete Grade 11.
When this happened everyone started to think that I would walk in my brother’s shoes. But deep down, I knew that I would not; I was different and wanted different things for myself. I suppose it dawned on me very early in my life that people did not really know me. I guess the name for my brand chose me long before I chose it. After my release I went to stay with my sister back in Soweto, except this time it was in Protea North.
It was towards the end of 2001 when I discovered that I had a talent for sewing clothes. My sister had wanted to give away some of her old clothes but I convinced her to give them to me instead. I turned them into backpacks and hats, which I sold to school kids for some pocket money. Out of an old Jean, and as a thank you gift, I made her a new skirt. From that moment on, I didn’t look back. I’m proud to say that everything that I know now has been self taught, no formal education or introduction to fashion whatsoever. Of course I would have loved to go to some kind of school but our finances could not allow for something like that.
In the beginning it was difficult, especially when I had no machine. But I refused to let that get me down; I knew that for as long as I had my hands, all I needed was nothing but a needle and thread. I eventually bought my first machine from the profit of a jacket that I had made out of an old blanket. For sho, this was extremely exciting. It felt as though the doors of heaven were literally opening up for me. For the first time I could make a lot of clothes; all at once. Who wouldn’t like that?
It is in this vein that I developed a liking for hip hop not only as a music genre, but also as a way of life. The likes of Arrested Development, Tribe Called Quest, NWA were my every day favourite pastime jams. In fact, when I realised that I was getting better with my designs, I started watching fashion channels to get some more inspiration. Those fashion shows really turned me into a serious dreamer. It was during these escapes that I would picture my designs on the fashion ramp; a dream I hold even to this day.
Today I own a clothing label called Unknown Soul, which is a small brand, recognized only by those closest to me and my love for hip hop remains unaltered.
At some stage I even approached Flabba from Skwatta Kamp. Since he lived in Alexandra, it was not unusual to bump into him every now and then. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that he loved my stuff. He admitted that, in all the places that he had travelled, he had never seen a sporty like mine. I get so deep with my dreams that I sometimes imagine our very own Miss Universe, Zozi, wearing one of my hats. For sho that would be something else.
In all the 19 years that I’ve been on this journey my family has never stopped supporting me; it didn’t matter that they didn’t quite understand fashion in the beginning. I have also been lucky enough to get the support from the people in my neighbourhood. With the proceeds from the few sales, I can at least buy more material and continue doing what I love. But it’s never enough; I struggle to even provide for my children, let alone my ailing mother.
Perhaps my biggest worry right now is the lack of support from government. And I know that I speak for all the young people in townships on this. I mean, one only needs to take a walk or a drive around any kasi to see just how much effort young people are putting in. Imagine if our government invested in our ideas… I would bet my last machine that we would not have such a high unemployment rate. After all, we are the youth of this country, and it is up to us to create employment.
What is the point of having structures such as the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller and NYDA if they are not going to help the people that require their services the most? I have approached both these institutions for a little help but it proved futile. So I’ve left it like that.
But like all young people who are coming up with ideas in different sectors, I believe my brand would help boost the country’s economy in its own little way. My designs are unique and original; a proudly South African brand which can compete anywhere in the world. My clothes are a combination of Jean material and African print. At Unknown Soul we don’t brand, we design and manufacture from scratch.