June 29th 1991, in the peaceful and quiet country of Botswana a young man and only male heir to a strong woman was born. Born into a family dominated by females, living in the heart of the capital city where multi-industries were becoming a part of a booming economy, Letlhogonolo Dintwe (now coined as King Vanderbilt) realized his dream of building an Empire.
Growing up around women with an eye for design, he spent most of his play time away from the soccer field, and in between crisp white pages expressing visuals of how the future would look like when it came to apparel. In Botswana’s growing capital city, Gaborone, this young man exploited the fact that girls around him were into Barbie dolls. He saw these dolls as mannequins and expressed his visuals on paper into actual clothing for his plastic canvas.
Although he was fond of his talent, where even his brother in law told him he should get into fashion design, King pulled away from his passion for a while as he was well aware of the stigma associated with men in the fashion industry. His oppression of his passion for fashion, and not having a fall back plan led him to study economics and accounting in the University of Botswana in 2010.
It merely took his first semester of his first year to realize that he cannot kill his dream, and he should make a legacy for himself while he has the power to do so. He was initially approached by a friend of his called foster to do a photoshoot with him. In his first photoshoot with K.O Photography, he created his own buzz with his new ‘King Vanderbilt’ persona that embodies his comfort in his own skin. Many of his friends and model scouting agents thought he should get into modelling, which ignited the seed of his passion once more.
Although he loved the attention he was receiving, he was more wary on the longevity of the legacy he wanted to make. He decided to pitch an idea of a company that housed photography, modelling and clothing design to a few of his friends. After 2 years of people not being fully into his idea, he decided to run it as his own baby. In 2013 he began spreading the word, talking about a new movement of model upliftment across the board. 2013 marked the year of a new force to reach Botswana’s Fashion Industry – The Empire XXIX. In his first year with the company, he received warm reception from his founding models, Letsema, Sandra, Aziz and Joseph and created a page on Facebook with a new photoshoot introducing the models. Overnight, the likes grew from 0 to 100 (real quick!). In his favour, his fashion sense and spreading the word about The Empire enabled mass marketing.
He created marketing model of doing in house photoshoots for the models, which not only built more hype on social media but created more placement for models through building a portfolio and giving them more leg to stand on when it came to bookings. One year and 10 photoshoots later, King decided to tap into the clothing branch; making and selling beanies, bucket hats and jewellery in collaboration with other designers in Botswana. After some selling faster than others, he saw fit to make more on a physical placement of the business than that which relied on Facebook likes, retweets and shares. May 31st last year marked his first event entitled Legendary 2014- fashion is my life , an event which celebrated the artistic expression in fashion – garnering fashion bloggers, performing artists, local designers and general public – the event was quite a success, but not successful enough.
King realized that continuously pumping money from his own pocket and not making profit doesn’t make the business economically viable. He then used not only his models but photography services to build his business. Today, one can say The Empire XXIX is quite new yet notable in the fashion industry, new age models such as Laone and Tiro are getting more attention and bookings, his photography services have extended to lifestyle events such as the Monate Sukiri Jam lifestyle cocktail events in Rhapsody’s Restaurant, and his bucket hats became part of the wardrobe for the Botswana Music Awards 2014.
Celebrating his second birthday at Cresta President Hotel, he attributes much of his success to a lot of people who helped him get to where he his, from Tshepo Kujwe, Tazz, Tebogo Matenge of Sgotti Cocktail Bar and Lounge, Giselle Kebakilwe (is proverbial sister) his close friends and family and of course his very own models, photographers and designers he has partnered with. Celebrate his success with him at the Royal Reign in Cresta President Hotel in Gaborone next week Friday.