From head to bums . . . when a hat goes diverse through indigenous innovation

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PALESA NDABE

One day while sitting and watching a national celebration of the King’s Birthday in July 2017, the young Khabele Selibo thought about what could be unique and suitable for the King apart from the usual special attire.

Not far from him was a Mokorotlo (Basotho traditional hat) which ignited the idea to design a chair that would be fit for a King to sit on during official ceremonies, with aspects of Basotho culture. He started drawing different designs that included the Mokorotlo chair amongst others.

In pursuant of his idea, Selibo, a resident of Ha Toloane in Maseru, partnered with one Mokorotlo hats artist and vendor of Maseru in February 2018. Selibo provided the design and measurements for his imaginary chair and a day later he went to collect his first chair; made up of grass like an ordinary Mokorotlo hat.

He further sought a partnership with a welder in his village, to design a steel frame that would accommodate the grass structure shaped in a way that would contain Mokorotlo and fit properly. He went further establishing a third partnership with a cushion designer from Morija to make cushions that would go inside Mokorotlo to make it comfortable for one to sit on.

The idea of a chair for the King later had a multiply effect; now the chair can be a commodity for sale to many Basotho households. He designed a second type of a chair which he fondly calls a dual foot rest. It can be used as a chair on its own, or can be used together with the Mokorotlo chair for complete relaxation at home. The foot rest is firm as it is reinforced with steel rods inside.

Did he have any business knowledge? No. But practice is a good teacher they say. He learnt that in business, collaboration and negotiation skills are paramount for anyone to strike a successful deal. He went further to design, this time, a gigantic chair in the shape of Mokorotlo hat, which surely shows that Basotho will continue to use Mokorotlo hat in their homes. This chair demonstrates creativity, talent and innovation. It’s not surprising, therefore, that his very first customer for the Mokorotlo chair was the Queen ‘Masenate National Trust Fund.

In March 2018, he attended an exhibition held at the Morija Arts Centre where he displayed his products. It was at this fair that he was spotted by his first customers. A few days later, his first chair was bought by the Queen ‘Masenate National Trust Fund, one of the initiatives through which Her Majesty Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso supports the vulnerable children.

The chairperson of the fund, Mofumahali ‘Matholo Seeiso confirmed that the chair was bought by the Central Bank of Lesotho in an auction hosted by the Queen ‘Masenate National Trust Fund as part of fund raising. Mofumahali Seeiso indicated that they were inspired to buy the chair because it was a unique innovation that demonstrated Basotho culture. They were also motivated that the chair was designed by a young Mosotho man and so they wanted to support local talent.

“I was humbled when I learnt that the chair was being bought by the Queen ‘Masenate National Trust Fund which is an initiative with a good purpose. The second customer was a gentleman residing in Maseru who bought four chairs for his home. I was motivated to do more chairs as people were interested in my products,” explained Selibo.

Now working as a team with like-minded fellows, Selibo has since made about six chairs between February and April 2018. Now he knows there is a market for his products and he is working on patenting his idea of Mokorotlo chair. “I don’t only dream, I make things happen. I design furniture suitable for indoors and patios that need to be treated with care to protect them from natural elements. These chairs can be used in offices at reception areas for the visitors,” he stressed proudly.

Selibo’s short term goals are to design different furniture items that would be sold in different furniture stores. He hopes to also advertise and sell online in order to access the markets abroad. He intends to find the means to deliver to South Africa and SADC region. “It is my long term vision to eventually design a chair that would be of high standard and demonstrate cultural aspects of Basotho and also suitable to be used by His Majesty, King Letsie III on official ceremonies,” he said.

The Mokorotlo hat is one of the national symbols of Basotho. Lesotho uses Mokorotlo sign as a unique symbol on the vehicle registration number plates. Basotho also use Mokorotlo hat as a symbol certifying that one is a ‘bona fide’ Mosotho. Mokorotlo is often used as a ‘symbol of sealing friendships’ for it is common practice amongst Basotho when welcoming or bidding farewell to expatriate friends, colleagues, business partners to give them the Mokorotlo hat so as to make them always remember Lesotho and Basotho.

Selibo is a graduate of the Limkwonking University of Creative Technology with an Honours Degree in Interior Architecture.

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