Xhosa design a hit on global catwalks

03 May 2016

When Laduma Ngxokolo’s mother Lindelwa taught him to knit, she sparked a love of fashion that inspired him to become a designer. Today her son’s collections are showcased on the catwalks of Europe’s fashion capitals. And earlier this year he walked away with the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa Award at the 2016 Design Indaba.

laduma females These are some of Laduma Ngxokolo’s designs from his women’s collection. (Image: MaXhosa by Laduma)

The beginning

When he was in Grade 8, Lindelwa sat Ngxokolo down and taught him how to use the family knitting machine. Knitting became his hobby, and changed his life. He went on to study textile design and technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth.

“I was influenced greatly by my mother as I grew up doing craftwork and beadwork with her,” he told digital publishing company Between 10 and 5 in an interview. “I believe that that was the beginning of my design experience.”

The research

His 2010 thesis project revolved around innovation. Inspired by traditional Xhosa patterns he designed a range for initiates to wear. This project was the first stitch in his knitwear company – MaXhosa by Laduma – and also his winning submission to an international design competition sponsored by the Society of Dyers and Colourists.

“This gave me the opportunity to speak about my project at Design Indaba 2011, which led to a lot of positive press coverage. It ultimately helped me establish my knitting brand in February 2011.”

His own Xhosa initiation, in 2011, confirmed to Ngxokolo that there is a market for his brand. “I felt that the outfits for the initiation ritual were too westernised. Xhosa initiation is a traditional ritual and even though we are all living in a modern time, I felt that there should still be an element that resembles the Xhosa culture.”

laduma males The designs of MaXhosa by Laduma are showcased on international catwalks, such as in Milan, Italy. (Image: MaXhosa by Laduma)

Ngxokolo’s creations are inspired by his Xhosa background and the local mohair industry. Visits to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum helped him discover the richness and creativity of Xhosa cultural beadwork. Incorporating those designs into his own work have helped him celebrate and preserve his own cultural identity.

“I also decided to use mohair from my hometown and discovered that Port Elizabeth has the biggest mohair industry in the world, and has the biggest wool industry in Africa. So I decided to take advantage of the local material, which is usually exported.”

Many accolades

Ngxokolo was fortunate in his choice of university. He arrived in the year the institution set up an Art and Design Incubator. NMMU provided him with seed capital to start MaXhosa, but his ongoing success is also a result of his talent and hard work.

His sister Tina, also a designer, has become one of Ngxokolo’s collaborators at MaXhosa. According to the MaXhosa blog, he has also worked with several Norwegian entrepreneurs, and given the chance to showcase their joint creations in Norway.

In 2014 he won a WeTransfer-sponsored two-year scholarship to study for a Masters in Material Futures at London’s prestigious Central St Martins of the University of the Arts.

That same year he received a standing ovation for his Buyel’mbo women’s range at Johannesburg Fashion Week. He described this local appreciation as overwhelming, even more than being identified as 2015’s Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa prize winner.

According to the international news broadcasting agency BBC, most of his sales are from Merchants on Long in Cape Town. Ngxokolo also has an online store.

South Africa.info reporter