Even in the densest of gatherings, Thato Calvin Modongo is easy to spot.
Never one to blend in with the crowd, due to his distinctive, and slightly unorthodox fashion sense, the flamboyant Tonny Beats Fabrics founder turns heads wherever he goes
Originally coming to prominence in Gaborone at the start of the new millennium, the man nicknamed ‘Dupa-kae1’ has maintained his unique sense of style for the last 16 years.
Recently he has started to receive the recognition he has craved for so long.
Modongo’s breakthrough came courtesy of the extraordinary way he designs tonny sneakers (monangaso).
“I simply enhance these legendary sneakers using paint and fabrics,” he told the Voice humbly.
Modongo revealed that his infatuation with art began in 2000.
“Back then I used to draw patterns and send them to designers.I would rock up at a fashion show looking all dapper and people always wanted to know where I got my clothes,” he said.
It was at one such fashion event that Tez, the founder of the show “Back to School’, spotted Modongo’s eccentric style.
He liked my fashion sense and right there on the spot I became the Back to School ambassador. I used to entertain and show off my fashion,” recalls the talented designer-cum-artist.
“Soon I had clients requesting my services but was transferred to Francistown and had to start all over again,” said Modongo, speaking to the Voice on a short break from his daytime job as an employee at Studio 88 in Gallo Mall.
Whilst he initially found it tough to re-establish himself in a new environment, Modongo said the Ghetto community eventually warmed up to his fashion sense.
“I had to become my own brand ambassador. I was literally a walking billboard and wherever I went, people wanted to know where I got my shoes. The interest grew and my business was up and running,” he explained.
Modongo, who has never studied any form of art, says his is a naturally acquired talent which he intends to use to add colour to his clients’ wardrobe.
During the weekends, the young artist can often be found displaying his products at Shashe dam, as he readily reveals, saying, “I have a very popular stall at Shashe dam where all the fashion savvy people come to get their pair of enhanced tommy sneakers.”
The pro-active, aspiring entrepreneur says he sometimes approaches people on the streets to market his business.
“You’ll be amazed at how much business you make by approaching a stranger on the street. It takes less than a minute to market your business and if they are not interested you move on to the next potential customer,” he said.
Modongo’s ready-made shoes cost P250 but he only charges P100 if customers bring their own sneakers to be enhanced.
“I’m a full-time employee but I also use every chance I get to make money and augment my salary. People should never focus on one thing, there’s always something one can do to make extra money,” advised the colourful character.