Craft and Nostalgia

Sindiso Khumalo’s S/S19 collection is a nostalgic nod to nature and nurture.

Picture this: it ithe 90s. A slight young Zulu girl with skinny legs is riding her bicycle along the landscapes of Botswana, occasionally dismounting to play a quick game of catch with her friends, her face the expression of childlike rapture enjoying the sun, and the warmth and the giggles.

And then later, the same girl is a little older, a little more pensive, taking long, leisurely solo walks, exploring the hills of KwaZulu-Natal, climbing trees, picking flowers, and staring into the clear blue sky, her thoughts and dreams meandering over brown hills and green fields stretching as far as the eye can see … 

SindisoK collection

A Folk Inspired Collection 

Those same colours, textures, and whimsy of Sindiso Khumalo’s childhood find expression in the Spring/Summer 19 collection of her eponymous brand.

Comprising textiles made from either handwoven materials, screen prints on linens or handmade paper cutouts, later developed into prints, the ladylike collection is an ode to the world of African folktales, and playful printed reincarnations of some of Sindiso’s childhood tales.

The folk-inspired collection is a marriage of my two loves: craft, and nostalgia,” she says.  

The range is now available online, the culmination of a three-year-long labour of love alongside her brother Zamani Khumalo of Mobisynco, who designed the site.  

SindisoK collection

Combining Creativity and Logic

The degree in architecture she eventually chose to complete at the University of Cape Town after ditching a degree in engineering, was the obvious natural progression. 

It married her creative side with the logic and problem-solving skills that the discipline demands. 

The career path took her to London, where she did a two-year apprenticeship under British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye.

My intention was to then do my masters in the US, but I went on to do a masters in textile design at Central St Martins, and then worked non-stop as a stylist and fashion assistant at various fashion houses.”  

Two important people in her life played significant roles in her decision-making processes. “It was David who made me realise fashion, and not architecture was my calling.” 

The second was her father, who died tragically in a car accident in 2002. “I just realised how short life is to not be doing something you love.” Her parents, Gugu and Vivian Khumalo, had always taught her to move towards what you love in life.  

SindisoK collection

Nature Inspired Attire

Following on from being selected as a finalist at the 2012 ELLE Rising Star competition, her early collections’ textiles and silhouettes reflected the Bauhaus movement’s strong influence that she has oft credited: a combination of multiple disciplines of art manifesting in linear and geometric forms.

But the ethos behind her clothing making has changed from fashion art to design. “Design is functional. We don’t make clothes that we wouldn’t wear. 

Sindiso and architect Edward McCann, her husband of 17 years, recently relocated back to South Africa. “I wanted to give my children the childhood I experienced – just being close to nature. 

Nature and the outdoors are central to Sindiso’s life. The self-confessed addict of nature documentaries, and specifically vintage National Geographic says she draws a lot of inspiration from nature and landscapes.

I also love watching what my kids do, how they play, make paper cut-outs, and how they refine their artwork.”

Once Upon an African Future

The playfulness of shape and colour combined with Johannesburg’s modernist architecture found place in the quilts and other textiles she created for the Överallt collection for IKEA.

Launched at Design Indaba 2019the limited-edition design collaboration featuring 10 African designers including RenéRoussouwand Maxhosa’s Laduma Ngxokolo, comprises over 30 pieces of furniture, textiles, and homeware. 

The past two years have been nothing short of a whirlwind for the trailblazer, Sindiso chats over the phone from London, having just flown from Johannesburg via Durban after showcasing a bespoke range she designed for this year’s Vodacom Durban July.

The theme was Once Upon an African Future, and in collaboration with Vodacom Red, she, Ngxokolo, and Rina Chunga-Kutama of Ri.Ch Factory created five looks inspired by Afrofuturism.  

“My family and I work and travel between Cape Town and London.” Though Sindiso’s pattern-cutter is based in London, and the entire year’s collection is designed in London, the factory is in Maitland in Cape Town. “Where there is Wi-Fi, we have an office.  

“It’s now school holidays, and we are in the English countryside enjoying the British summer,” she says, as her eldest can be heard jostling for her attention in the background. 

“There was something of a kind of real cultural anchoring,” she says of the Durban July. 

Obviously, it’s a big horse race, but there was a real celebration of African heritage. I never show in Durban, and it was truly amazing to go back home, and show my family my work. It was epic!” 

Words by Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine