Bokang Kholu Ramoreboli speaks about her biggest heartbreak that claimed her brother’s life and her plans to improved healthcare in Lesotho to honor her little brother. She also share her life experience and lifestyle, the All Flo brand and journey to fashion industry with ADEWALE ADENRELE (African Development Magazine)
Below are excerpts:
Can you tell us briefly about yourself, your family and educational background?
My name is Bokang Kholu Ramoreboli. I was born in the district of Mafeteng, where both parents originated from, to Koena Mokhachane, a Royal Princess, and Moshoeshoe Ramoreboli, a Son of a highly respected and powerful Politician and member of the Parliament of Lesotho. I grew up in Maseru, the Capital city of Lesotho. I was blessed enough to have my paternal Grandfather, the Honorable G.P Ramoreboli provide a privileged life that has been fundamental to who I am today. He taught me how to be an entrepreneur, patriotic, serve and fight for the betterment of Lesotho. My Maternal Grandmother the Chief of Matlapaneng and neighboring villages, installed in me philanthropist values, humility, love, and dedication. She served her people her till her very last day, April 2020.
In the mid-’80s my Mother was deployed as a diplomat to Germany. There I completed my High School Studies. I also took a German language course and went on to study Fashion Design at Robert-Wetzler Shuele, Bonn, Germany and later moved to London to further my studies at Hammersmith & West London College. One of my favorite professors suggested I consider moving to the USA where he felt I fit in best. Eventually, I took his advice and moved to NY, Queens. I have lived in all parts of NY for over 20 years. Upon my arrival, I identified the opportunities at hand. The beauty industry was at its peak. I soon became a wife and mother to my oldest daughter. Real-life soon set in. I was divorced and a single parent so I joined New York’s hustle World. It was no brainer that I became a hairstylist. I’d been doing hair since I was 6 years old. I made enough to have my daughter attend private schools and live a decent life. 10 years later my last daughter was born. In 2007 I got back to my first love, Art. I was a part of a NY Organization, Chashama ,Jamaica Queens, New York. USA
I participated in numerous exhibitions and grew stronger as an artist. The makeup artist was born and most times incorporated hairstyling in my work. I knew I ultimately desired to design. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake off the discouraging advice I got from a teacher back in high school. She explained that the fashion industry is already overpopulated and the competition is too grand for me to even attempt. So I figured I’d satisfy my passion by working backstage. That didn’t last too long. In 2010, I was diagnosed with severe Asthma & had to give up all I loved and made a living out of the hair business and Fine Arts. While fighting for my life, I lost my “little brother “to AIDS. We grew up together as siblings. Our fathers are brothers but we knew our grandfather as our Dad. It was the biggest heartbreak I ever experienced. He was talented but hopeless because of the African system/ mentality. If it’s not academic it’s only a hobby. There aren’t many if any resources outside of basic education. His death was preventable. But the stigma was a greater obstacle, so he died in shame and fear. This broke me into pieces! I was angry. Depression sank in and felt like a failure. I was fully dependent on my husband and that didn’t sit well with me. Being a full-time housewife wasn’t me but I did love being there for my daughters 24/7. I couldn’t stop thinking “what can I do to change things in Lesotho to honor my little brother?”
Les A.R.T.S was born. Lesotho Artistic Recreational Therapy Services and Shelter. This would incorporate the arts & recreation as a form of therapy, along with education and medical assistance for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. It would also act as an extension to schools for the arts & recreation. Adults infected/ affected by HIV/AIDS would be the top priority employees. Consequently, hope and financial stability would be restored. I hosted fundraising art shows around NY City. Then my T-Shirt line came along and was highly successful. It was a cost-effective option for those who wish to own my artwork but cannot afford an actual painting. Unfortunately, shipping to Lesotho was too challenging especially with immigration restrictions at the time. That never deterred me from my mission to keep raising awareness, collecting school supplies & clothes, and promoting Tourism by putting my little beloved country on the map.
In 2011. I joined the African Day Parade committee and represented the Southern Region of Africa. I was also part of the stage production team as an artist/designer. At this point, I had elevated to being a full-blown African-inspired accessory designer as All Flo. (Nickname I got for doing it all). I made shoes, jewelry bags, and some home accessories. I wanted to always represent Africa anywhere I was seen. I introduced African fabrics in nightclubs and lounges. Made-Africa “chic “. My brand grew very fast! I would soon be invited to showcase during New York Fashion Week. This was HUGE! I can finally showcase the beauty of Africa and make Lesotho shine. What could be better than that!!
Business cards were made with my new logo and officially I was a designer. As though this wasn’t big enough I was told that I could only showcase if I find a clothing designer or produce my own. I had never made any clothes. I didn’t even know how to operate a sewing machine. I was NOT going to miss this opportunity of a lifetime! NO WAY. My mother paid for me to showcase the entire weekend. And just like that I cut & sewed 25 pieces, made 30 pieces of jewelry, and 25 pairs of shoes. I was the only designer with everything and had most pieces. This was done in about 2 weeks. My ancestors carried me all the way!! I was also the only one that received a standing ovation in the end. It was surreal. Such a high! I was bombarded with media personnel and the audience with loads of questions and applause. All I could think was if only my “Mom was here” and I literally felt my little brother smile at me and that was the beginning of Allflo Couture.
What is the most challenging moment while growing up in Lesotho before the sojourn abroad?
My siblings and I were raised mainly by our Grandfather in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, while my father lived in the village. I hardly spent time with my father until he became ill. His illness meant that he had to stay in the main hospital in Lesotho at the time, which happened to be in Maseru. Throughout his hospital stay, I was glued to his side. He’d take me practically everywhere on his adventures in and out of the hospital. I guess he knew that he didn’t have much time to live and wanted to make up for lost time. I enjoyed watching him dance and entertain people with his impeccable storytelling abilities and witty humor. He was a social butterfly and so full of life. Unfortunately, he battled with lung disease for about two years until he passed when I was 12. Losing my father while preparing for my final exam in primary school was one of the most challenging moments in my life.
A few months after his passing, I started catholic boarding high school far away from home. This school was very mentally and physically challenging. My Grandfather demanded that I attend because it was the number one school in Lesotho. Though incredibly arduous, I managed to graduate that year. Shortly after, my Mother was deployed to what was then known as West Germany to work for the Lesotho Embassy in Bonn. I had to make a decision. Stay in Lesotho to be close to my recently departed father or move away from my home to be with my Mother and sister, whom I love and missed immensely. Leaving my dad behind seemed unbearable, so I stayed. As I mourned my father and longed for the day I would reunite with my Mother and sister, I grew increasingly conflicted. To stay or to go
As soon as winter break arrived, I rushed to my aunt and begged her to fly me out to Germany. She prepared everything, and in no time, I was on a flight to Johannesburg. This was the first time I’d ever been on a plane, and I was also alone. The morning of my trip was so surreal. My mind was busy with apprehension, curiosity, and raw excitement. It was somber knowing I was leaving behind my other siblings and couldn’t tell them to avoid complications. Nevertheless, I hopped on the plane wide-eyed and filled with wonder for this foreign place. Finally, it took off, and I sat in the bittersweet reality of my departure. I waved goodbye to my lifelong home and embraced my new life in Germany.
Who influenced you the most in life and why?
My Mother had me in her late teens and had to be a single parent for most of my life. She worked very hard to provide for us. Our home held great significance in Music and Fashion. She’d often design our clothing and incorporated the Ankara fabric, which at the time almost no one wore in Lesotho. This definitely sparked my love for both Ankara patterns, detailed and one-of-a-kind designs. Both Maternal and Paternal Grandmothers exhibited strength, grace, confidence, and leadership. My Maternal Grandmother was appointed as the Chief (Queen) of my Grandfather’s home early into my childhood after my Grandfather’s passing. She dedicated her entire life to leading, developing, and caring for multiple neighboring Villages. My home, also known as the Palace, served as the courthouse, shelter/home for those in need, prayer house, and community center. Her regal, yet ever so humble disposition was inspiring to all! My paternal Grandfather was a highly respected and feared Politician. While a Parliament member as the Minister of Law and Justice, he also led his Political party. Lesotho and its betterment were his passion and mission. A true Patriot!
You have visited many countries, what would you advise the African leaders?
Having lived abroad, it’s clear that the key to prosperous countries is their cultural-conscious strategies when developing their lands, investments in youth, and involvement of their women. African leaders need to return to African roots of respecting their women as leaders and refrain from the European notion of patriarchy. They must create Africa’s future by creating platforms for innovative projects. Diversifying and upgrading the existing/conventional educational system is the only way to broaden the economy. Africa can easily be the World’s leading Nation!
You were very angry at Africa continent when you lost your brother, can you tell us why and what triggered your anger?
HIVAIDS is still a pandemic in Lesotho. The traditional beliefs and stigma are the main reason for this. For instance, for a wife to suggest that her husband uses protection when having sexual intercourse would result in a possible divorce or, worse, physical altercation. As for those infected, they are shunned and labeled as promiscuous. This makes it impossible to seek necessary medical treatment. My youngest Brother/Cousin died unnecessarily because of this. His death made me resent Africa! I couldn’t help feeling like Africa failed him and us his family.
As the founder of Allflo Couture, tell us what motivated or inspired this great concept and the success stories recorded so far?
My dream is to establish an African school of Arts, Fashion, and Creative Designs as a tool to reduce unemployment in Africa and restore hope in its youth. I showcased in numerous NYFW shows and around the US ,Canada, Suriname, Guyana ,Lesotho etc. I have also won awards for best designer and African Philanthropist.
My designs were featured on multiple US & International newspapers and magazines
Some of My artworks are part of exhibition in NY Museums which is huge success for the brand
African ethnic groups and tribes have customs and traditions that are unique to their culture. What do you like about African Culture?
African culture is unique and beautiful! I love that we have strong morals, spirituality, family pride and values, gratitude, unity, and recognition of our ancestors who paved the way for us. As we say,” u munthu ka bantu” or “o motho ka batho” meaning you are who you are because of others.
As an African woman who had lived, worked in abroad for over decades, what can you tell the world about Lesotho, the people and their culture?
Lesotho is Africa’s best-kept secret. Landlocked within South Africa lays its breathtaking snow-capped tall mountains in the snow, high altitude, and abundant land. It owes its long history of political autonomy to the mountains that surround it and protects it from encroachment. Almost all Lesotho plants are medicinal. It’s the first African country to grant a license for the cultivation of medical cannabis that is also exported to the European Union. Home to one and only ski resorts in Southern Africa, Lesotho is the place to go to for skiing and snowboarding adventures. Afriski Mountain Resort, situated in the Northern Highlands, has something to offer for every snow lover, both activity and scenery-wise.
The famous Sani Pass is one of the most challenging yet rewarding 4×4 routes in the World. The Pass begins at 1,544 meters and submits at 2,876 meters. Sani Mountain Lodge boasts the highest pub in Africa. In addition, the prehistoric caves and the Subeng dinosaur footprints are preserved in sandstone and feature the prints of a variety of prehistoric animals which lived approximately 200 million years ago. Located 24 kilometers from Maseru, is the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village. This is a national monument and birthplace of the Basotho people. The sandstone plateau is home to a fortress established by King Moshoeshoe 1, the founder of the Basotho Nation, and is considered by the locals to have magical powers. Thaba Bosiu meaning Mountain at Night is believed to grow larger during the night, protecting inhabitants from enemies and intruders
In tourism, we have aspect of tourism like educational tourism, religious tourism, medical tourism which area can Africa be on a selling point of tourism to world especially Lesotho?
Lesotho’s people, Basotho, have a rich culture. Their origins can be traced back to prehistoric times. The Basotho, also known as Sotho speakers, are said to have originated from the north of Southern Africa. They made their way down as various tribes settled in different parts of the country. Today these groups are respectively known as the Batswana, Bapeli, and Basotho tribes.
Basotho people associate and identify themselves through the use of their clan names, which specify their ancestral origins; namely the Bataung, Basia, Bafokeng, Makholokoe, and Bakuena. The royal family of Lesotho is largely made up of Bakuena.
Basotho’s oral history can be found deep-rooted in their usage of totems or family odes (liboko), praise songs or poems (lithoko), and storytelling (litshomo). Liboko refers to the names of families, clans, or totems. In these, a clear history, philosophy, and the origins of each tribal group can be found. Family odes are used to identify and differentiate one clan from another. Litshomo were traditionally told by grandmothers to their grandchildren while sitting by the fire at night. The purpose of these stories was to guide and warn the young children about harmful things surrounding them.
Basotho are known for their unique style of Fashion. Hats and Blankets are big statement pieces in Basotho Fashion. Their overall style is conservative/ classy with an edge.
African Development Magazine would like to be part of your team reporting your activities, promoting your brand and tourism promotion for Lesotho; would you consider partnering with us and what will be your commitment to ADM?
I love and support the vision and mission of African Development Magazine and it is my passion to support and promote the African brands. I am a firm believer that all Africa needs to reach its full potential is the right support by Africans. Firstly and most importantly Africans must start rewriting Africa’s true history and stories to encourage tourism for a greater economy.
My commitment to ADM is being their Southern African Ambassador through Arts, Fashion, and Tourism both in Africa and the USA. I would like to introduce/support Eco-tourism to Lesotho in particular to ensure the preservation of its environment, history, and culture.
Amazing memories are unforgettable; can you share with us most amazing memory?
In 2016 I visited Lesotho for the first time after almost 30 years. It was such an emotional trip on many levels. Finally, I could see my family again. This also meant that now I would face the fact that I have lost almost all of my Father’s family.
I can still remember vividly the feeling I got as I landed on South African soil. I could hardly breathe. Tears of joy poured down my cheeks and the lovely South African woman sitting beside me gently asked “are you alright dear?” Chocking with emotions I nodded my head and she rubbed my shoulder and said “breathe”. As I exited the plane, I literally heard my ancestors say “welcome back our child” I smiled and wiped off my tears. I felt a sense of belonging and security. I stayed in Johannesburg for a couple of days. On the third day, we left for Lesotho. Mafeteng (my birthplace) to be exact.
As soon as we approached the border into Lesotho, it rained cats and dogs! It was a sign that the Gods were pleased with me. The sign Khotso Pula Nala at the border brought me to my knees. I stepped out of my Aunty’s car and kissed the ground. Despite the night’s darkness, I noticed some familiar places as I stared out the window like a toddler with a grin on my face. I felt free and as though all my worries and hardships I’d endured abroad were completely lifted off of me. I was HOME where I belong.
What advice would you give the younger ones?
I have been blessed to be invited as a guest speaker to local schools in Lesotho and I often tell the youth that education is fundamental for a better life. However, going to school to get hired is no longer the way things work. Innovation is the key to success! With innovation, one can create job opportunities and improve the country’s economy. School is only to prepare and guide. In other words the beginning not the final destination.
Thank you for sharing with us.
You are welcome. I appreciate ADM