This interview features Rebecca Tembo – a 23 year old fashion designer, proudly born and bred in South London. She is the third out of four creatives who made our 'Meet The Speakers' series where we interview fashion entrepreneurs who are working independently to turn their passions into a paycheck. This is to give our members an overview of who they are, what they do and what they stand for. The concept of self-development and having a strong vision is something we advocate for at the Fashion Bleuprint, so we wanted to dig a little into Rebecca's mindset and philosophy.
TFB: How did you get into the fashion industry?
Rebecca: Working in fashion has been my aspiration since I was about seven years old. I didn’t know this at the time, but I just remember drawing the same strapless gown over and over again. When I was in year 9, the Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) did a one-week workshop open to students all around London where we had to create an athleisure collection alluding to the 2012 Olympics. It wasn’t until then - being in that environment - that I began to see fashion as a potential career. My stepdad didn’t believe that a black woman could make it in a creative field - he’s very academic so he saw it as a mediocre path and heavily advised me against it. After fighting long and hard to convince my parents to allow me to pursue this ‘non-academic’ route for college, I enrolled at the FRA and began my course. I ended up dropping out as I fell into depression and needed to look after my mental health...
My business started when I uploaded the first dress I ever created (after watching a YouTube video) on my social media. I immediately started getting orders and opportunities from there. Last year  I discovered my passion for jumpsuits and decided to take that leap of faith and pursue this niche market. I rebranded Rebecca Tembo, created a new website, worked on my business plan, did some photoshoots and was ready to start fresh. My official launch was in January 2020. It has all been a learning curve but I feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.
TFB: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Rebecca: I would say dressing Michelle Keegan for Sky Up Next 2020 at Tate Modern, this past February. This was an opportunity that I sought for myself instead of waiting for it to come to me and it paid off.
I am also proud of selling out my very own workshops in Fashion Business Basics. Having people wanting to learn from me, paying for it and giving me positive feedback was amazing! I had to work my ass off and make mistakes for 5 years before I could sell out those workshops and be able to successfully hold them.
TFB: As an entrepreneur, what struggles do you face and how do you overcome them?
Rebecca: Self-doubt is one of them. This is mainly due to being a black woman working in a creative field. Growing up my stepdad made it very clear to me that it is harder to succeed as a black person, even more so working in a 'non-academic' field. I feel like this has been instilled in me and it shouldn’t be that way.
The way I overcome my self-doubt is by believing in a Higher Power and understanding that you can break barriers. I also read about other people’s stories in books. I try to constantly remind myself and I feed myself with motivation and inspiration everyday – by listening to podcasts for example or going to events and doing affirmations – I reccommend people do this every day!
You are always going to have doubts, acknowledge those moments and overcome those feelings. It takes practice to train your mind.
TFB: If you could start all over again, is there anything you wish you could’ve changed?
Rebecca: I would have finished fashion school.
TFB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Rebecca: Learn to love yourself. School and society tell you to be one way…we’re all trying to be someone else. You are OK as you are, you don’t need to change but it’s OK to want more. Believe that you can break barriers. If somebody can’t give you those words, give them to yourself.
TFB: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into fashion?
Rebecca: My advice would be to be prepared to work very hard. Fashion is an unpredictable job, you have to really love it.
I would also tell them to network! You have to know people, so get past your insecurities and put yourself out there. I regret all the events I didn’t go to before the lockdown.
TFB: Where do you see the fashion industry in the next 5 years? (What specific changes would you make if you could?)
Rebecca: I think in the next 5 years we will see the end of burnout culture. Like, why are we constantly being forced to innovate? This pandemic is already forcing us to slow down and just follow our passions. I think there will be a rise of independent designers and I think we will go back to traditional fashion.
TFB: What is your stance on sustainability and how do you incorporate it in what you do?
Rebecca: One thing that I think we all need to acknowledge is that sustainability is costly. It’s a lot of pressure on designers who don’t have the resources. Of course I would like to have a 100% sustainable business but it doesn’t work like that. I think it should be a collective effort. If we all do our bit then it will contribute to a lot. It could be one thing you do towards sustainability which works towards the overall industry goal. Be it your manufacturing location, be it wastage or carbon footprint.
I have a made-to-measure model so we only order what we need, there is very little wastage. We will have to follow demand until we have solid figures and are able to introduce ready-to-wear. Businesses should ask themselves what sustainability means to them specifically, then start with the little things until they can eventually be 100% sustainable.
TFB: Who or what inspires/motivates you?
Rebecca: I am my own inspiration. Nothing is more inspiring to me than the future me, the woman I am becoming…I get to become her, bit by bit, every day.
As for motivation, I have amazing people in my life and the people I follow on social media as well.
TFB: If you weren’t in the career you’re in now, what would you be? And why?
Rebecca: I would study volcanoes. I used to love Geography in school, I could really understand data and knowing what to do with it. I am still waiting to see how that will manifest in my fashion.
TFB: What is one rule you live by?
Rebecca: Get up and do what you need to do. Don’t wait for motivation, it’s a myth. Ambition is just an aspiration, discipline is what’s going to manifest it.
Shop Rebecca Tempo jumpsuits here: www.rebeccatembo.com
Interviewed by Giovanna Vieira Co, 2020