When you first meet Sam Banda, he comes across as a quiet, unassuming man. Five minutes into a conversation and you realise that he has big and bold ideas, is bursting with creativity and has an absolute passion for his craft. Sam Banda is more than just a tailor, he is a designer and entrepreneur who came to South Africa from Malawi 13 years ago with a vision of success. And he’s achieving it.
“Sewing, for lack of a better term, runs in my family,” says Banda. “My dad was a tailor in Blantyre (Malawi) and passed on his love for fabric, fashion and creativity to me. He also taught me everything I know.” He says that the allure of building a business in a larger market like South Africa, saw him pack up and set up shop at The Square in Sunninghill. He had a dream in his pocket fueled by burning ambition. “I have been blessed that after just more than a decade, I have a client base that stretches across several provinces and soon I will be opening a second outlet in Pretoria.” He has clientele that often make the journey from Limpopo, North West and even Cape Town to enhance wardrobes.
Word of mouth has been his greatest ally in marketing his business. Amongst his clientele counts celebrities, socialites, politicians and a growing number of people looking for a unique, affordable garment, a one-of-a-kind item. “Sometimes I even get a little star-struck when really well-known individuals call or come to my store,” says Banda, “I am not always sure how they come to know of me, but I appreciate it that my details are shared often. I believe it reflects my work, and that is extremely satisfying.”
Banda can sew anything. During his career he has made hundreds of bespoke suits, designed original garments for customers as well as copied the latest in Hollywood. “These days many customers bring in a picture saved off Instagram or Facebook, and I am asked to either copy it or create a similar garment,” he says. “I cannot tell you how many Kardashian-eque items I have produced over the past few years, but it is a lot.” He adds that many male clients also head to him for traditional suiting up. “I try and price very competitively with oof-the-shelf clothing, I do not see the logic of outpricing myself in the market. I want everyone to be wearing my product.”
Banda’s customer requests range from the sublime to the ridiculous, having made showstoppers for events like the Vodacom Durban July through to some, quite unusual, garments. “I have had more than one customer come in and order a suit, where the jacket is short sleeved on the one side with a long sleeve on the other. Another client had me sew each suit panel in a different colour, almost like a psychedelic suit.” But he has also had some assignments that go beyond the norm. “Last year the number of pet garment requests skyrocketed, and I am not talking just a simple pooch jersey. I had to create a full business suit for one pup while, believe it or not, I also had to dress a chicken. It was one of the most challenging outfits I have ever sewed, for obvious reasons, but the customer was really happy and, hopefully the chicken felt very fashion-forward.”
Banda loves working with any kind of fabric but has a special liking for colourful African designs and, what he calls, flat material. “The boldness of traditional looking fabric is irresistible; garments can be really bold. While I love any kind of fabric, a straight, easily workable non-elastic cotton is the best. It’s more malleable and does not limit you to any specific type of item.”
This year Banda expects that the fashionables will continue to pursue looks harvested online. “Social media has really changed the way in which we look at and experience fashion. It has made global design accessible to anyone for replication or inspiration and, of course, the growing pursuit of the individual or unique look has led to more people wanting to stand out from the crowd.” He jokes that he has Instagram to thank for demand, in part, as original garments make for better selfies.