Getting to know The Ninevites founder, Nkuli Mlangeni

Nkuli Mlangeni
Nkuli Mlangeni

How did you get into the textile industry?  

I worked as a stylist for several years and have always had an appreciation for fabric. In 2016 I researched the textile industry with a focus on handmade textiles and travelled to South America and worked with an artisan in Lima, Peru.

Following that, I made rug prototypes and later when I came back to SA, I continued my research and started looking at the textile space in the SADC region

Who is Nkuli outside of making rugs? 

I’m a dreamer, traveller and rebel. I love archives and geeking about all kind of things. I’m also a mother and maker of things.

Tell us about your collaboration with The Trenery Guild and how you interpreted your rug into Trenery’s new season range?

The rug is a translation of the colours of the new collection, very simple and modern but pretty.

Walk us through the process from concept to the final product. 

With each project I usually just go into research mode and work on the concept. I’m a geek when it comes to research and I love it. I always just go with what I find inspiring at that point, what stories I’d like to tell and then invite a team of collaborators I want to work with on that specific project.

With the rugs, I usually make scan cards, collages and mood-boards, send it to the graphics person who then translates it into graphics. They then send it back to me and we ping-pong like that until we have something we’re all happy with.

Following that, the graphics are then sent to the weavery for sampling and they do their whole thing from scratch - wool spinning, dyeing and then weaving. It takes a while to get to the final product but I really enjoy the process. 

What role do you hope to play in the design world with The Ninevites?

To inspire and empower. 

How do you manage/run your business living in between cities?

I designed the business to fit my lifestyle; I’m a bit of a nomad. Most of the work is done virtually; the weaving happens in a remote place, my collaborators are based all over the world. I think this way of working is becoming the norm and there is definitely a shift in how companies are being led.

For instance, some of the most successful companies like Airbnb, Spotify and others, are run in cyberspace.  

What challenges do you encounter in your industry and how do you overcome them?

The design space is still not very accessible to people of colour, plus design education is expensive. I think more work needs to be done to make it more inclusive. If you don’t have financial support or any form of support it can get very challenging. How I try to overcome this — I just keep going, doing my thing and try to create opportunities for others, wherever possible. 

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