Heritage fashion: Laduma scores big

2014-09-23 18:45

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Local label MaXhosa by Laduma is going global. Sandiso Ngubane talks to him about the power of heritage-inspired fashion– and how it can be done without exploiting indigenous people

“I think it’s very hollow,” says Laduma Ngxokolo about international designer fashion that takes inspiration from the cultures of indigenous tribes in different parts of the world.

“I’m not sure which brand it was that took ­inspiration from the Basotho tribe and another that did something with the Masai of Kenya, but I think it would have been nice if they bought fabric from the source to make the garments, or simply told the story of these tribes.”

The articulate 27-year-old doesn’t fit the mould of the ­flamboyant fashion designer. He’s dressed down, wearing one of his signature cardigans.

His meteoric rise as a fashion designer can be credited to his interpretation of his Xhosa heritage through design. He says that he is not necessarily against people appropriating cultures that are not their own.

“It’s a good way of formulating new design, but I think it can be done in a way that is much more profound.”

As he did with his two previous collections, Ngxokolo used his ancestry as inspiration for the new one, titled Buyel’embo. The term is often used by elders who, thanks to urbanisation’s effects on their traditional rural lifestyle, reminisce about times when money did not dictate the quality of life, subsistence farming ensured food security and crime was not an issue.

“The idea was to give my interpretation of how I think Xhosa people would be dressing if they were never colonised,” he says. “The Western influence would be there, but they would have largely kept their own unique aesthetic.”

The designer came into the fashion business three years ago and his label, MaXhosa, is one of the most recognisable in the local industry. This is partly due to his popular and unmistakable knitwear designs, but also because of what comes across as an astute business acumen as Ngxokolo seeks to execute his vision of a “premium luxury brand”.

The new collection from MaXhosa by Laduma will be sold internationally

Over the past year, Ngxokolo has taken his work to international events and, while delivering talks and exhibiting his work, ­Ngxokolo says he also took the time to explore these territories as potential new markets.

“The demand is there and it’s not going to die any time soon,” he told #Trending. “However, the last thing I want to do is supply an inferior product.”

Creating a high-end product, he adds, means it will come at a higher cost for the consumer, but this is all worth it if MaXhosa is to be considered as a luxury brand. This, he adds, is linked to the vision of using his heritage as inspiration.

“The first time I looked at the traditional wear of the Xhosa people, I saw it as haute couture. The garments are done by hand, the sewing is done by hand and the beadwork is done by hand. Why can’t it be taken from there? I felt that if I made my product lower-end, then I wouldn’t be doing that heritage any justice.”

Ngxokolo is not the first person to take inspiration from our indigenous cultures. Stoned Cherrie, the label founded by former actress Nkhensani Nkosi, was known for using the black consciousness movement as inspiration.

Vintage Drum Magazine covers adorned T-shirts and became a popular symbol of an African renaissance that was sweeping through fashion in the early 2000s. There is also Sun Goddess, which is known for its traditional Xhosa couture, but both these brands have seen mixed fortunes over the years.

The latter had five stores across the country at one point, but soon, one after another, they closed down until there were only two left – one in Durban and one on Sandton’s Mandela Square.

Stoned Cherrie closed its only store in Rosebank and, earlier this year, the brand posted on its website that it was completely shutting down its clothing operation.

Asked if there wasn’t a risk of becoming repetitive and boring if one sticks to a particular aesthetic informed by a particular culture, Ngxokolo admits that the risk is there, but says one needs to be constantly innovating.

With plans for expansion over the next few seasons, he is ­intent on sticking to the heritage signature.

“Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa recently spoke about rewriting our history because our history is written from a colonial perspective,” he says. “We have a responsibility to actually reinterpret it in our own voices.”

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