Rubicon’s Hangwani Nengovhela celebrates two decades in the fashion industry

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Hangwani Nengovhela specialises in making women feel good when wearing her garments.
Hangwani Nengovhela specialises in making women feel good when wearing her garments.

She is one of the designers responsible for making South African stars dazzle on red carpets and stages.

Fashion designer and Rubicon founder Hangwani Nengovhela has dressed the likes of Basetsana Khumalo, Lyn Whitfield, Rami Chuene, and Pearl Thusi to name a few.

Her latest collection titled ‘Myth Re-imagined’ is inspired by the fashion trends from the great historical Mapungubwe Kingdom in Limpopo.

"The design aesthetic is derived from the kingdom’s social structure, the influence of trade with the far east, and the area’s dynamic ecosystem,” Hangwani says.

This year she marks 19 years of style and sophistication. Her designs all have a subtle touch of African opulence.

“We have come a long way,” Hangwani says.

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She started her brand Rubicon in 2002 at a time when the Afro-chic movement was very popular. The first garments she ever made incorporated colours from traditional African designs.  

Today she operates from the Riverclub in Sandton with 13 employees.

“Back then I made more the Afro-chic looks using all the different South African ethnic groups traditional fabrics mixing them with 100% cotton fibre,” Hangwani says.

But her style has since evolved. 

“The current Rubicon aesthetic is more universal although drawing inspiration from the pre-colonial era of Mapungubwe.” 

Born in Sibasa in Venda, as a young girl Hangwani was not interested in silhouettes and fabrics and would rather play football outside with boys. It was her mom Catherine Tshikororo and grandparents Julia Tshikororo, Dickson Ralushai and dad Victor Ralushai who influenced her love for style and fashion. 

“My mom helped me to set up our first studio. My grandmother’s influence was of timeless elegance, and effortless taste and she was graceful in her approach. My grandfather was rich in knowledge, and he left a world of his wisdom and teachings about the people of Mapungubwe who we are descendants of. So, there is great history in my work,” Hangwani says. 

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After she realised she had a passion for fashion, Hangwani went to study at Minijiang University in China doing clothing and textile design and she is currently studying towards a Bcom degree from UNISA.

“You can be talented, but studying has helped me understand the history of fashion, grading of patterns, illustrations, stitching, and so forth. But before I put a garment together; I research, gather information, create a mood board, sample and then launch the collection.”

Hangwani has showcased in Nigeria, London, Switzerland, Ireland, Paris, Mozambique, Tanzania, China, and Italy.

“Having seen parts of the world, my biggest lesson has been understanding the business blueprint and having sufficient capital to run operations. To run a design studio and create work can be costly if you don’t have the right team and financial aid,” Hangwani says.

What keeps her motivated after all these years is her passion for coming up with new designs.

“I am passionate about making women feel beautiful. I love to make a difference and taking part in the economy,” Hangwani says.

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