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MaXhosa Making Waves

Laduma Ngxokolo and his global African fashion brand MaXhosa Africa are on an unstoppable flightpath.

“There is such beauty in this country. It hit me when I first saw traditional Xhosa beadwork from the 1800s. It spoke of what Africa is about – the traditional aesthetic, the pride, the flamboyance and extravagance. In Xhosa beadwork it is reflected in the way that colours are used, the patterns and the spacing between.”

Sitting in his studio on the third floor of an industrial building next to the Nelson Mandela Bridge that links Braamfontein to Newtown in downtown Johannesburg, Laduma speaks about his Xhosa lineage – the inspiration for MaXhosa Africa.

MaXhosa Africa on the runway

This is the man who was named Fashion Designer of the Year in Africa at the Fashion Awards in Uganda in December 2018. This is the man who created a signature shawl that was named The Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the 2016 Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town.

His designs include both his heritage and globalisation. It speaks of the rolling rhythms of his ancestral land, South Africa’s Eastern Cape, and the chants of his Xhosa ancestors. It embodies the downtown hustle of his life in Johannesburg, as well as the fashion capitals of London, Paris, Milan, Lagos, New York, Berlin, Cape Town, Amsterdam, Oslo, and Tokyo . . . where MaXhosa Africa is showcased and sold.

Globally Appealing 

What excites Laduma, is that the African aesthetic is increasingly becoming globally appealing. “It is completely possible for us to compete with other global aesthetics, and to have African design up there on the global map,” he explains. “My team and I have worked hard to get to this level with my brand, and the pressure is huge to maintain our high standards, keep on top of our game and expand the platform for other top African brands.”

Laduma’s flightpath started in 2010, when he was a student at Nelson Mandela University’s School of Music, Art and Design (SoMAD) in Port Elizabeth. He grew up in the predominantly Xhosa township of Kwadwesi. “My inspiration was my late mother, Lindelwa Ngxokolo, who was a knitwear designer in the ’80s. I learnt from her, she was the main influence in everything that I do, and I still feel her presence.

MaXhosa attire

“Initially my range was all about survival as we had to make ends meet after my father left in 1990. Back then, it was difficult as a man to say that I was designing knitwear, as there was a gender stigma about it, but I needed to expose my range and so I would fit the garments on myself and then wear them and see how people responded.”

Recognising the uniqueness of Laduma’s work, Nelson Mandela University set about protecting his intellectual property, and its Innovation Office filed design registrations in 2011, which were transferred to him. The Innovation Office further helped Laduma to develop his brand through MAD Propella, its business incubator for the arts.

The transition to MaXhosa Africa

Initially, MaXhosa Africa garments were branded MaXhosa by Laduma, and were exclusively made from wool and mohair, the Eastern Cape’s natural fibres. However, Laduma has since started to incorporate cotton, silk, velvet, viscose and chiffon, and expanded his range to include both men and women.

There is now also an offering of décor items, such as his unique rugs. “I don’t limit myself,” he says. “I see myself ultimately building an African luxury group with other brands from throughout the continent that are globally received and easy to commercialise, including Africa-inspired contemporary furniture, jewellery, art, music . . . whatever complements the brand. Hence the transition to MaXhosa Africa, because we represent the continent globally.”

MaXhosa on the streets Photo: Trevor Stuurman

MaXhosa on the streets Photo: Trevor Stuurman

He chose Johannesburg as the headquarters for MaXhosa Africa. “Because Joburg is the centre of Africa and my studio is part of a very creative downtown community that includes Braamfontein, Newtown and Maboneng. The diversity in Joburg is very important for my brand as it reflects the continent to the full, and it is one of the best cities in the world for entrepreneurs. It is a city of opportunity.”

He adds that the vivid influences of many different African cultures are omnipresent in Johannesburg, all contributing to its character. “What excites me, is that over the past eight years, I’ve seen significant growth in the arts, music and design in the African diaspora and within Africa. I travel to other African countries more often than I ever did – I’ve been to Cameroon, Rwanda, Morocco, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria, Lesotho, amongst others, mostly to do group fashion shows.

“The feeling of being in other African countries is an amazing eye-opener, and a lot of people are doing a lot of great work. I would like to have retail outlets in all the fashion capitals in Africa and globally, but I will continue to produce from South Africa. The infrastructure is good, our diversity is dynamic, and we have access to outstanding products, opportunities, universities, and lifestyles. It makes me value being South African more than ever as you realise this is such a special country to live in, and such a platform to the continent and world.”

Words by Heather Dugmore 

 

 

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