Slow fashion designer who upcycles mielie-meal packets features in '100 Beautiful Things' project

Katekani Moreku's Spring/Summer '19 collection. Image supplied
Katekani Moreku's Spring/Summer '19 collection. Image supplied

The sustainable fashion conversation seems to have been finally handed the megaphone it deserves in the wake of a global pandemic that has threatened the retail fashion industry. As a result, shopping habits have changed and adopting a slow fashion approach is now more of a reality than we predicted when it was first suggested. 

An article published in The Conversation titled, Why you should stop buying new clothes, explains how the "fast fashion business model, first developed in the early 2000s is responsible for the increase in consumer demand for high quantities of low-quality clothing."

"Many fashion products now being designed and made specifically for short-term ownership and premature disposal. Clothing quality is decreasing along with costs, and the increased consumption levels of mass-manufactured fashion products are pushing up the consumption of natural resources," it highlights. 

READ MORE: Why you should stop buying new clothes  

This is why thrifting has become increasingly popular in a small faction of our local fashion community, while some designers innovate to create 'green' garments from sustainably sourced materials. Durban University of Technology graduate, Katekani Moreku, is an example of a designer whose work can be considered a hybrid of both these environmentally friendly approaches. 

“Previously loved clothing” plays a big role in this fashion designer's eponymous label. He finds his materials in thrift stores, at car-boot sales and from people selling fabric off-cuts and discarded textiles. He’s also used the packaging of mielie meal products. 

100 beautiful things
Katekani Moreku SS19 

“I want to help slow down fast fashion,” says the designer who will soon relocate back to Mbombela, in the Mpumalanga province where he grew up, to launch his brand. 

Katekani Moreku will be featured in a new initiative that celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of the makers behind some of South Africa’s most inspiring projects, products, ideas and experiences hosted by the V&A Waterfront, in partnership with Platform Creative Agency. The initiative features 100 Beautiful Things, all of which are designed with either compassion, sustainability, future-thinking or local essence at their core, with some being recognised for just simply being beautiful.  

READ MORE: This is what a Vogue editor has to say about where South Africa is headed in terms of luxury fashion

It is fitting that he will be making his one-off pieces of clothing from this part of the country where his mother’s sePulana culture first piqued his taste for upcycled fashion. Living next door to a sePulana school of initiation in the village of Welverdiend, he would see women from this sePedi subculture dressed in brightly coloured wrap-around garments that they would make from scraps of fabric and mielie-meal packets, decorated with mismatched buttons, bottle caps and sweet wrappers. He himself has always been an avid thrift-store shopper. 

“I was trying to live sustainably without even being aware of it,” he says of his life before fashion studies. “Now that I am aware of it, I’m thinking about what change I can bring.” 

100 beautiful things
Katekani Moreku SS19 

Part of the change is to create gender-neutral clothing that allows men to also inhabit this colourful sphere usually reserved for sePulana women. “It always looked like men didn’t embrace their heritage,” Moreku says of the way in which the men he saw growing up never wore anything similar to the vibrantly clad women. His range now dresses men in knee-length pleated skirts, button-up dresses and wrap-around trousers, in bright orange, blue and pink. “I’m using the female aesthetic and bringing it into the male part of the culture, in clothes that can be shared by men and women,” he says.  

100 beautiful things
Katekani Moreku SS19  

Part sustainable fashion, part heritage expression, Moreku’s first range, Nascent, which debuted at South African Fashion Week 2019, has already got style enthusiasts gushing. Last year, he walked away with Twyg’s Sustainable Fashion Student Award and the KZN Fashion Council MEC Recognition Award for Eco-Friendly Fashion. 

READ MORE: Save the planet, but make it fashion: SA Fashion Week commits to a sustainable fashion 5-year plan

As for the SePulana people being celebrated in the collection, Moreku says they are excited to see a modern take on their culture. “They’re helping me with ideas, and the elders are giving me information because it’s not so easy to find. But they’re happy someone is taking their culture out there, and they’re able to look at themselves through me now.”  

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Additional information and images provided by The Friday Street Club

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