MaXhosa designer Laduma Ngxokolo talks inheritance and heritage
Today his clothing range extends to women’s clothing and home décor and is stocked as far afield as the Netherlands.
Laduma’s vision for his brand was born in 2010. 'My vision was to create a modern Xhosa-inspired knitwear collection that would be suitable for amakrwala (Xhosa initiates), who are prescribed by tradition to dress up in new, dignified, formal clothing for six months after initiation,' he says.
'As a person who has undergone that process [initiation], I felt that I had to develop knitwear that genuinely depicted my cultural aesthetics. Along my journey exploring astonishing traditional Xhosa beadwork craft, patterns, symbolism and colours, I discovered that they would be the best inspiration, so I incorporated them into modern knitwear items.'
Since then Laduma has moved his business to Cape Town, where he says the design industry is flourishing: 'I shopped around for a suitable location and I found Cape Town to be best-suited to my vision, so I relocated last year. The World Design Capital – a design platform that awards cities that recognise design projects aimed at urban transformation – is also happening in Cape Town this year.'
The designer still has a huge love for his hometown, from where he sources his mohair. 'Mohair production is huge in Port Elizabeth,' he says. His other preferred medium of creation is merino wool, also locally produced. Although producing locally has its challenges, Laduma says he improvises where necessary.
'Producing locally isn’t as easy as producing offshore, for instance. The material is more expensive and suppliers don’t offer the best. Knowing I am contributing towards growing jobs and the economy makes it worth my while,' he says.
Laduma’s creations are stocked in Johannesburg, Cape Town, France, Namibia and the Netherlands – opportunities that have come about through social platforms.
'I’ve made connections with people from fashion-week platforms and the Design Indaba. The response from the public is great; people are interested in my work,' he says.
Laduma’s goal is to have retail stores in the world’s fashion capitals. 'I would love to expand to other African countries and have retail stores in Joburg, Cape Town, Lagos, London, Paris, New York and Tokyo,' he says.
For his first showing at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Johannesburg earlier this year, Laduma received a standing ovation and words of encouragement from one of South Africa’s power couples.
'Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe and Patrice Motsepe came backstage to congratulate me. The response was overwhelming,' he recalls.
Laduma says he can’t pick a favourite design from his collection, 'because every day I fall in love with a new design'. Asked why his designs are authentic and proudly South African, he says he is not the ideal person to ask, but his customers are.
'My supporters are ambassadors for the brand. I design according to how I see amaXhosa in the modern era. People say it’s authentic and a celebration of the Xhosa heritage and traditions,' he adds.
View Laduma Ngxokolo’s fashion film, My Heritage, My Inheritance , to see how he describes his work and his heritage.