By Chanel Retief
Lydia Mbayo went from an engineering job to making some sharp-suited statements in the fashion business.
How does someone go from being an IT engineer to becoming a modeling agent and entrepreneur with a suit collection?
Lydia Mbayo, 39, who is all of that, says it simply: “I will never let anything stand in my way, if it’s the right time for me to do something, then it’s the right time. I will follow my dreams.”
After a stint as a modeling agent that saw her in-house talent grace global campaigns, Mbayo, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and now based in South Africa, has launched a collection of ladies’ suits and jackets called La Jaqueta.
“I was always in love with fashion. I have always liked to dress up. I always wanted to be a model. And I always had that entrepreneurship spirit,” she says.
Her new brand seeks to empower women through clothing and help build their confidence and self-esteem.
“I love suits, and I feel confident in them, so I wanted people to be inspired by that so that when they wear my suits, they feel confident too,” Mbayo says.
By her own admission, she is not a designer, but she hand-picks the fabric and adds her own personal flair to it, getting a lot of help from a local ‘cut, make, trim’ factory that assists in manufacturing her “dream collection”.
So how did a young woman who came to South Africa from Kinshasa in the DRC in 2001 to study IT engineering at the University of Johannesburg come to represent models?
Her degree led to her working as at an IT engineer in Johannesburg, but there was something missing. It was not in line with her true passion.
“They used to call me the IT Noami Campbell because I was clever and did well at university, meanwhile, being a Naomi Campbell,” she laughs.
Mbayo aspired to take underprivileged young women from small townships and turn them into international models who could one day represent the biggest names in the fashion industry.
“That was my dream, you get a girl from Hammanskraal and ask her, ‘do you know Paris’? She says to me, ‘mama, what’s that’ and then, I would say to her ‘come sit, let’s Google’ and I would show her the Eiffel Tower and say to her, ‘yeah, we are going here one day’.”
So, in 2013, she represented her first model, who went on to win a local pageant. In 2015, she started a modeling agency, FabulousDotCom. And two years later, she says some of her models were well on their way to attaining global fame.
“You know, in the beginning, no one wanted to book my clients, and I had no idea what I was doing. Everything I learned, I learned from Google – Google was my teacher,” Mbayo laughs. “I even resigned from my job as an IT engineer, and that was a big risk, but it was worth it.”
With the pandemic still at its peak, Mbayo’s brand will be available online for now.
“When it’s rain, you have a good time. You cannot have a good time if there is no rain. So when you have those challenges, those difficulties, those are just the rain and then the good time is coming,” Mbayo says.
“The coronavirus is not stopping my dream, so it should not stop yours.”