Berkeley Today Stories
Fashion Program at Berkeley College Empowers Student to Expand Her Design Business
Phumelele Kunene, an emerging fashion designer, is pursuing a B.B.A. degree in Fashion Merchandising and Management at Berkeley College in New York City. Ms. Kunene was born in South Africa, grew up in Swaziland, and has a Graduate Diploma in Marketing from Varsity College in Durban, South Africa. She immigrated to the United States in 2008 to be with her family and worked for a number of years as a research analyst for JPMorgan Chase. For seven years, Ms. Kunene flirted with the idea of starting her own fashion design company. In 2013, she took the plunge and launched her own clothing line BlackPhumelele in Brooklyn, NY. She draws on her rich African roots when creating design concepts. In September 2015, she made her debut during New York Fashion Week where she introduced her Spring/Summer 2016 Collections. Below, Ms. Kunene discusses her journey as an entrepreneur and a student at Berkeley College:
Have you always been interested in fashion design?
I started at a young age making dolls clothes for my younger sister. Later, I would sit at my mother’s sewing machine designing clothes for myself. In those early days my mother was very conservative and when I came home from school she would have modified my styles. Of course that was frustrating because I never got to wear my own designs. I reconnected to designing again in 2007 when I received my first sewing machine as a birthday gift.
What is the significance of your company’s title?
Phumelele in Siswati means success and black as part of the name is meant to empower black entrepreneurs to follow their dreams. Over the past two years I have donated two designs to Shared Interest, a nonprofit that is dedicated to funding, supplying, and assisting South Africa’s townships and rural communities. My donations have gone towards empowering women to start their own businesses both in South Africa and in other neighboring countries.
What are your career goals going forward?
To grow my business to a sustainable advantage, see my clothing in multiple high-end boutiques, and increase brand awareness.
Why did you choose to pursue your fashion degree at Berkeley College and is it a good fit in helping you to reach your career goals?
Berkeley College’s B.B.A. in Fashion Merchandising and Management program provides an opportunity for me to enhance my career path. This college is a good fit for me because it offers the right courses and academic qualifications to assist me in pursuing my vision. The hands-on experience of the professors and their connections in the fashion industry contribute to the work I am doing in my business. For instance, I was able to turn to Professor Joshua Williams for help when developing my look book and line sheet. That kind of support from my professors is invaluable and has a positive impact on the work I am doing, which increases revenue and helps me to expand my business to the next level.
Berkeley College recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for theBROOKLYNfashionincubator at the Brooklyn campus. You are one of the fashion entrepreneurs in residence at the Brooklyn incubator. How does your participation in this program help to further your career plans?
The benefit of being part of this amazing program is that I am being mentored by our director Maria Barraza, a fashion designer and retail store owner, who has extensive experience and influence within the industry. When you have a dream to become a fashion entrepreneur and you are self-taught, there are certain limitations you encounter when growing and operating your business. For example, there is fashion language and terminology one uses when engaging industry people. Being able to communicate your vision with different vendors, factories, manufacturers, and buyers in the right vernacular is important. The incubator program both addresses these limitations and provides the necessary tools to expand and scale one’s business to the next level.