Designer helps man preserve wife’s love by transforming high-end dresses into shirts

Verushka Pather with her dear client-turned-friend, Pat Mkhize. Pictures: Supplied

Verushka Pather with her dear client-turned-friend, Pat Mkhize. Pictures: Supplied

Published Jun 9, 2024


The story of unwavering love between Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize and her husband Pat Mkhize has been preserved in fashion courtesy of Verushka Pather’s Khanya Designs.

Pather, a businesswoman and Indo-African fashion designer, has transformed high-end garments worn by Mkhize, the late deputy minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, into shirts at her husband’s request.

For Pat, wearing the transformed items ⁠“sustains their love”.

Mkhize, 69, who died in September 2021 of lung cancer, had served in various capacities in government over the years. She was the Minister of Higher Education and Training and the Minister of Home Affairs as well as the National Treasurer of the ANC Women's League.

Pather, who affectionately refers to Pat as “Baba Mkhize” or “Baba” said she began designing for him after his wife’s death.

“I only met the honourable minister in this beautiful archive of memories,” said Pather, as she recalled her first conversation with Pat.

“It’s a beautiful story. I was rushing off to Mauritius for Shivaratri and had just finished an online meeting. I got a call from an unknown number. I usually don’t take these but I did. On the other line, I had a beautiful, astute gentleman, who asked if I was from Khanya Designs. I said, ‘Yes’. He asked if I did designer clothes and again, I said, ‘Yes’.

“He asked questions about Khaya Designs but wanted to speak to me first to see what I was like. I said I could share images with him of the designs in terms of female garments as he was not specific. At the end of the call, he said he would like to do something rare. He wanted men’s shirts made from his wife’s clothes. I sat up in my seat because he got my attention. He was silent and I was intrigued.

“Then he said his wife had died a few months ago and he was looking at her things and did not want to part with them. He wanted to do something with her garments for himself, his daughters and his son. Immediately, my heart sank. I thought about how beautiful true love is and keeping memories alive.”

Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize. Pictures: Supplied

With her busy schedule, Pather said she dropped everything she was doing to meet with him at his home in Salt Rock in Durban.

“I met a charismatic gentleman who exuded this beautiful energy and so much love, kindness and soul. He had all his wife's exquisite garments out, made by illustrious designers from Johannesburg and around the world. They had been buying clothes from Italy and London and I thought, ‘Here is simple Khanya Designs and this ordinary Verushka in a T-shirt and tights showing up’,” she laughed.

Pat in a shirt transformed by Verushka Pather of Khanya Designs. Pictures: Supplied

“We chose a few garments, and I shared an idea of what I could do with the garments. I took it back with me and did a rough sketch of what I would like to do. My friend, Genevieve Tomkinson, sketched it. We then sent it to our tailor and bought a shirting fabric to blend and match it.

“So, that was the trial of two shirts, then three shirts and then it became four shirts. Baba Mkhize was so ecstatic to receive the garments, and his children just loved it. Now I will be designing garments for his daughters and shirts for his son.”

Pather said their friendship had also blossomed.

“He invited me to his Johannesburg home to stay and have a showing for Khanya Designs in his garden. His daughters are also quite happy that he has someone who will look out for him in Durban when he is here.

“The second time that I was delivering clothes, I asked him, ‘What do you like Baba, I am coming to you on a Sunday?’ He wasn’t well, and I was a little worried about him being on his own, so I made a ginger-lemon mix boiled with turmeric and pepper.

“Then he said he loved curry. I made lamb curry, roast chicken and savoury rice; whatever I had prepared in my home for my father-in-law, who is non-vegetarian. When I delivered it to Baba, he said it was the best delivery of clothes that came with a meal.”

Pat said he met his wife one morning in 1976 during an urgently called student body meeting meant to discuss the Soweto violence developments. He said he happened to sit next to her.

“We made eye contact and she then immediately turned her face to the opposite side. I then moved to draw her attention towards me; using my tricky, persuasive endeavour much against her reluctance.”

He said he introduced himself and they got chatting before the student representative council president opened the meeting and while fellow students were trying to get settled.

They married in January 1978 in Pietermaritzburg.

Pat said the “pangs of her departure” prompted him to have some of her clothes altered into shirts.

“I almost always picture her wearing some of the dresses that she liked and that impressively drew my attention. My kids and I initially gave some of her clothing to family members and welfare organisations, but I still have a lot of her clothes in our bedroom.

“I have not given away those items that are a shining star to me and which would strike a blow if I saw someone else wearing them. An idea came up that I must turn some of the items that I love so dearly into my own shirts. I did not hesitate to execute this idea and I promptly contacted some designers here in Sandton City as to the possibility of doing so. Some said it would be difficult to do so. Some said they would, and, indeed, one did so.”

He said he also Googled some designers in Ballito, in Durban, who could do the same. He said he happened to find Khanya Designs.

“I called Verushka and told her about my idea, and she sacrificed everything to meet with me as the idea impressed her so much.”

He said wearing the shirts meant a lot to him.

"This is a symbol of love motive and persistence of attachment," he said

“What I miss about her is more about what I would do for her than her for me. It was not much about remarkable actions, but minor things like opening the car door and closing it for her while she would leisurely get in and out of the car. I learned to do this midway in our married life. So amazing was the love we shared. It was of its own kind.”

Pat said in addition to his wife’s clothing being transformed, he had her wedding ring resized and polished to fit him and his new lenses adjusted to fit her glasses frames.


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