Martin Steenkamp pictured at his place of work, Mozimax Textiles. Image by MRP Foundation/ Pierre Tostee
“You are who you decide you want to be,” says Martin John Steenkamp, making reference to his simple, yet often challenging upbringing on a small farm outside Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. “We had no running water and electricity. Every day we would walk a short distance from our house and collect buckets of water. As a child, it was such a drag, but in retrospect it makes me realise how blessed I am,” he recalls. “This daily routine instilled such high levels of discipline and tenacity for what was still to come in life,” he says.
Twenty-six year old Martin is years wiser than he appears to be mainly because of the many trials life has dealt him. Martin laments that his siblings were rather academically inclined. “I was just not that good. Arts and culture were my passion and made me come alive,” he says enthusiastically. It was in 2007, his Matric year, that Martin decided he wanted to pursue his studies in Fashion Design.
However, his destiny was delayed as his dad, who was meant to fund his studies, lost his job. “I was really upset but had to look on the bright side. I decided to go and work and save up money for my education,” says Martin. He managed to secure a job at local supermarket chain Boxer Superstores, which offered him a learnership focusing on wholesale and retail training. The learnership required him to work in every department within the store, including training as a cashier, dispatch and receiving, administration and the deli.
“I was ‘discovered’ whilst working in the Deli Department by a Managing Director who was very impressed by my work and offered me a position as a Deli Supervisor,” he says. Martin spent the next seven years at branches around the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, finally ending up in Pietermaritzburg.
“It was in my seventh year that I had finally saved enough money to pursue my passion full time. I was introduced to the Jump Start Programme in my final year, when the MRP Foundation made a presentation at the Pietermaritzburg School of Fashion. I was immediately hooked and applied,” says Martin. “I literally took my last bit of money from my savings and moved to Durban to join the programme.”
A Pre-Production graduate of the MRP Foundation’s Jump Start Programme, Martin highlights that the intensive ten month practical and theoretical course has opened his mind and instilled a wealth of knowledge in him. The comprehensive syllabus covers everything from pattern-making, designing, costing, merchandising to planning for production. “We did not only learn the theory of the subject. We also visited the factories where you could see all the elements converge; manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
I have evolved so much after the programme. Mozimax Textiles, my employer, has created an amazing position tailored to my skills because they have seen my commitment to grow and not just evolve as an employee.” He adds that the programme has taught him self-awareness and leadership skills, which have improved him on various levels, personally and professionally. For Martin, the Jump Start programme enriched both his mind and spirit. “After the programme I felt more aware of myself and of those around me and that is just one of the greatest things to achieve as a person,” he says.
Martin graduated from the programme in November 2016 as the top clothing graduate and won a trip to Europe in September this year as part of his career development journey. “It was the biggest highlight of my life thus far. It was my first time on a plane and my first trip overseas. I was enthralled from the second I boarded the plane in Durban,” he relates animatedly.
The trip was an educational experience where Martin shadowed MRP buyers, learnt about trends for the 2018 seasons, and how the international market operates. “It’s exciting for me to have gained so much knowledge, which I can now try and implement,” he says. “I am working very hard towards a career in buying and trend-forecasting in the fashion arena. I strongly feel that if I can make it, anyone can!” he says optimistically.
Martin has made phenomenal progress at a young age. He featured on SABC 3’s Top Billing last month for winning the 2017 Fashion Innovator Award at the Durban Fashion Fair. The award was in recognition of the designer who pushed the boundaries and embraced new textiles and technological innovation. The Durban Fashion Fair provides an opportunity for new talents like Martin to share a platform with established designers in the local and global fashion industries.
John Martin is his personal luxury menswear brand, which he aspires to supply to boutiques and retailers across Africa. “I wear my own creations. My pieces are an extension and an expression of myself!”
Based on his own life journey and struggles, Martin concludes, “The most beautiful people in life are those who have known defeat, suffering, struggle and loss, yet they have found their way out of those depths!”
Applications are now open to join the 2018 Pre-Production Programme
and the Professional Retail Programme
as an intern. Apply here.