Usually old T-shirts go to die at the back of a wardrobe. Sometimes they double up as pajamas or find their end of life purpose as shoe-shine rags. That has pretty much always been the long and short life as a T-shirt. Well, that is, until half a decade ago when husband and wife team Fezile Marubelela and Winnie Maluleke threw in the towel, stopped being desk jockeys and ditched the corporate world to upcycle T-shirts.
Voila, Feel Beautiful is not only symbolic of the pair’s escape from nine-to-fiving, but hard evidence that a good idea coupled with a will to succeed can be ingredients that make for life-changing success. “Winnie got tired of being an auditor,” says Fezile, “and I gave up a life working for a salary in advertising to start my own agency, and to partner up with my wife to launch Voila Feel Beautiful.” Self-funded and sustained by passion, the upcycled garments have become somewhat of a fashion phenomenon.
Stripped, knotted and shape shifted into something new, Voila’s range is produced at a small factory on the outskirts of Tshwane where the couple have 21 previously unemployed staff in service. “The idea came about one night, as my wife and I were throwing around thoughts to take our lives in a different direction. Inspiration struck and after ripping up and experimenting on dozens of shirts we hit the nail on the head.” The garments can double up as beachwear, over-the-jeans funky wear and, for the fashionably brave to turn heads at cocktail events. “Every Voila can be twisted and turned into more than one look. The Spine Dress can become a hoodie crop top, a funky bikini overall and simply a top or skirt.”
It wasn’t long before the range was selling like hot cakes at premium markets like the Fourways Farmer’s Market, the Rand Show and others. “We have also started exporting to the United States, Vietnam and Europe with interest growing beyond our wildest imagination.” Social Media has played a large role in generating interest. “Our customers have become our best ambassadors with most of the content we post created by people who wear Voila. It has been an incredibly satisfying journey, one of authenticity and an absolute love for what we do.”
Recently Voila Feel Beautiful took a bold step and introduced a range of watches to the collection. Using Swiss and Japanese time-keeping the couple have designed a multi-shape strap, again using the same upcycling method. “The Delta range of watches has quickly emulated the success of the Voila clothing with demand currently outstripping supply. As with all our products, every unit is unique and different.” These timepieces have also become collector’s items with orders flooding in from all corners of the globe.
“There is nothing more satisfying than pursuing a dream and realizing it without having to rely on anyone else but yourselves,” adds Fezile who hints that Voila is presently experimenting with a host of other designs. “Swimwear and other looks are in development now and toying with new ideas and innovations. I believe that Voila Feel Beautiful will go from strength to strength and that not only will we be contributing to the worldwide upcycling movement, but also create opportunities for as many South Africans as we are able to.”