You need to see African Style Story’s spring collection from every angle. A lightweight V-neck shirt looks decidedly casual from the front. Turn it around, and you’ll find an unexpected lace-up detail running along its spine and a printed bird mid-flight below each elbow. There’s no doubt that this piece was designed to adapt to a wide range of dress codes. Its creator, Carla Pinto, is many things: designer, businesswoman, wife, mother and master adapter.

Pinto, who is Portuguese, worked in branding and communication until she moved to Mozambique in 2004. Looking back, she says it’s clear that fashion design was always her calling, one that lay dormant until she experienced the vibrancy of the continent first-hand. Christening her label African Style Story is her way of paying tribute to this.

“Africa changed my life – that’s why I chose this name. If I hadn’t come to Mozambique 13 years ago, I think I’d still be a brand consultant.”

The art of selling

A background in the corporate creative world offers invaluable support for a young brand.

“It has given me the consumer’s point of view,” says Pinto. “At the end of the day, the most important thing about having a clothing line is to sell.”

Pinto understands her customer on a level beyond brand theory: she is her customer – a modern woman who has multiple roles in her daily life and wants to look great playing them. When Pinto says, “I want to feel empowered by what I wear”, she is expressing a vision that benefits herself and those who wear her creations.

African Style Story launched at SA Fashion Week in 2016. Buyers from Big Blue showed immediate interest, and Spree followed shortly after. Pinto is one of the few local designers who work on their brand full-time.

As you read this, she’s creating her AW18 collection, which will show at SA Fashion Week in the last week of this month; early enough for fans to start planning their new season purchases well in advance.

Pinto’s designs make a commercially appealing impression, which is backed up by intelligent design. In addition to the details on the aforementioned lace-up shirt, Pinto’s house is all about print. In a market where “African prints” are numerous and have lost their sense of modernity, Pinto manages to refresh and revitalise. Her secret? Adaption by way of personalisation, providing “a fusion of cultural elements.

“There’s a story and a team of designers and illustrators behind each print, and that is what I believe makes them unique and modern,” she says.

Cultural mix

Pinto prides herself on injecting her brand with the mix of cultures she has experienced, both on and off the continent. She’s passionate about local design and the challenges faced by her fellow South African designers, the largest of which are access to the right quantity of quality fabrics and a market that doesn’t instinctively shop local.

“We need to educate South African consumers that, by buying local, they are making South Africa a stronger country,” she says.

Perched on many of the pieces in her new collection is the lilac-breasted roller bird, a sub-Saharan Africa native.

Pinto’s collection is called Nature, which is also her chief source of inspiration.

The collection will adapt seamlessly to your closet. It’s reassuring to know that, whatever Pinto’s designs morph into, their function will remain the same.

“To me, designing clothes is all about empowering women; making them feel beautiful and confident; helping them look elegant and sophisticated; and always comfortable throughout their busy days.” – W24