WGSN speaks to Neo Victoria Rangaka, founder of NEO, who shares with us the brand’s mission to help people unveil their ‘gifts’ through fashion, one African piece at a time.
Tell us about your brand
NEO by Neo Victoria Rangaka is a proudly African brand built to redefine the African identity by inspiring people to embrace who they truly are. Designs take on international trends, giving them an African twist to reflect the passion, tenacity, excellence and dignity of the African people – sharing this with the world.
What drives you?
Faith in God and love for people. I believe people are all created with a purpose and unique gifts to cultivate their purpose. NEO means ‘gift’ in my native language, Setswana, so my mission is to encourage people to recognise their gifts and value. My passion for Africa steers me to tell the untold stories of my people through fashion.
Describe your design style
Detailed, atypically African, urban/street, simple and timeless.
Who are you designing for?
Youthful consumers who seek to wear apparel unique to them. People who are comfortable in their own skin, know what they want, who insist on quality and are uncompromisingly African. Trendsetters who seek to make a mark and are dignified ambassadors of Africa.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration when creating?
My own journey; lessons I learn in faith, culture and identity. I pair my message with imagery inspired by people from all walks of life, both modern and ancient. This can range from ancient Egyptian royalty, African indigenous tribes, emerging subcultures in South African townships such as skhothanes, to Nelson Mandela, Fela Kuti and even my parents. I connect with my inspiration by having conversations with people, looking at old family photos, exploring my city, Johannesburg, or going to cultural events.
What's the piece of work you're most proud of and why?
This is a difficult question to answer. I would say perhaps my South African Fashion Week 2020 collection, which illustrates my rebranding transition from BLVNK (pronounced blank) to NEO. Each piece came together at a time when resources and assistance were limited.
The collection took colours from our old Apartheid flag combined with elements of the Johannesburg Metro Police uniform to create fun, eclectic designs. The story behind combining all these components was to encourage and empower the wearer, especially in a time when people felt fearful, discouraged and helpless.
Share with us the sustainable steps that you are taking
- Designing collections using leftover fabrics from old collections and upcycling pieces to create unique one-off pieces that can be passed on through generations
- Designing timeless pieces and not so much according to fads or fast fashion trends, including our prints – ie using prints that will be in style season in and out
- Saving water and electricity during all processes, such as finding more sustainable dyeing methods that use less water
- Reducing the use of sublimation and recycling waste paper for packaging purposes
- Using fabrics that are less harmful to the environment as well as reusable packaging
- Collaborating with artists and fashion students by passing down leftover fabrics and materials to use for art pieces
- Eliminating waste fabrics; we aim to become a zero-waste fashion brand
What do you hope to achieve with the brand in the next 3-5 years?
Build a globally recognised brand, with 80% of my sustainability goals met and to have employed a minimum of 30 people in the company and empowered many more. By the fifth year I aim to grow the brand into a company earning six figures with at least two physical locations, ideally a store and our own studio office.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a brand?
Limited resources, such as business strategising skills and resources for production. These include Adobe Illustrator, sustainable and innovative fabric selections, customised fabric (access to fabric mills and fabric printers with low minimum quantities), customised finishings at an affordable price (ie without having to buy in bulk), human resource (employees that are skilled enough to take on the tasks I would usually do), marketing (effective market research tools) and access to marketing strategies and resources.
What has being a brand owner taught you?
The importance of understanding people, what they want and how they shop. Being in the right place with the right product and being as detail-oriented as possible - not just with designs but also the packaging, strategising, admin and financial management.
Patience! A brand cannot be built overnight. Finding effective ways to collaborate, as it’s near impossible to do everything solo. I aim to create as many jobs as possible and pass on my knowledge and skills to many others.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I have a driving passion for people; I wish for them to tap into their true identity and grow to find out who they are. Every one of us is born with a gift, value, something to make this world better, but not all of us know this about ourselves.
I believe that as I shine my own light, reach my full potential and empower those I encounter to do the same, it will cause a ripple effect that will breed the problem solvers our society needs, especially on the African continent.
Find out more about NEO on Instagram and catch up on our previous Future Designers Q&A with Cynthia Abila here.