Laduma Ngxokolo is a young South African designer who incorporates his own Xhosa culture into his knitwear designs. Laduma started his brand MAXHOSA by Laduma in early 2011 and has since continued to captivate audiences both locally and internationally. His main objective is to capture his culture in his knitwear to maintain his heritage that he finds is dying out. Laduma uses locally sourced textiles like Mohair and uses the patterns found in traditional African beadwork as his inspiration. Recently Laduma has branched out to include patterned rugs, cushions and blankets. This year, he expanded his brand even more by starting a women’s line called ‘Buyele’mbo‘.
To start, please tell us about yourself and what you do:
I’m from Port Elizabeth and I’ve studied textile design and technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. I was taught hand machine knitting by my late mother in Grade 8 and I’ve basically been doing knitwear as a hobby since high school as it was also one of my subjects. In 2010, I did my BTech and wrote my thesis project on ‘finding innovative designs for Xhosa initiatives to wear’. 2010 was also the year I started my knitwear brand and by using my thesis project I entered an international competition called ‘ The Society of Dyers and Colourists’ and won. This gave me the opportunity to speak about my project at Design Indaba 2011 which led to a lot of positive press coverage. This ultimately helped me establish my knitting brand in February 2011. Currently, I design, source production from Cape Town and raw materials for my knitwear from Port Elizabeth.
When did you start getting interested in design and fashion?
There isn’t a particular year, however I was influenced greatly by my mother as I grew up doing craftwork and beadwork with her. I believe that that was the beginning of my design experience. My late mother also spoke about fashion at home frequently. My sister is also a fashion designer. This all influences my growing interest for fashion and design.
What made you look to your own culture to make Xhosa-inspired pieces?
When I went to a Xhosa initation in 2011 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. So as a designer, I felt that I could explore and incorporate my culture into knitwear. I initially found beadwork at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum which I took photos of to observe the patterns, motifs, colours and symbols. I found the structure of the beadwork and knit-stitches very interesting because of the patterns and how everything was so precise. So I decided that incorporating this design into knitwear would somehow help preserve my heritage for the next coming generation. I also decided to use Mohair from my hometown and discovered that Port Elizabeth has the biggest Mohair industry in the world and it has the biggest wool industry in Africa, so I decided to take advantage of the local material which is usually exported.
What is the process behind your work, could you take us from the inspiration for a new piece through to the release of a new collection?
Initially when I started I had a lot of ideas for motifs and patterns. I knew that I could use those as the signature style of my upcoming collections. My starting point is looking at what I have at hand and then modifying those patterns and motifs into a new design. I also look back at traditional Xhosa beadwork to get new inspirations and to incorporate them both together. I then take the patterns and apply them on knitwear design silhouettes on the computer, after which I proceed to make the samples which can be different to what I have on paper as the colours change. So I always make prototypes first which I then select from for the collection depending on what I feel spiritually and what thoughts I have for the upcoming season.
Does your personal style have an influence on your brand?
It does a lot. I also model some of my pieces because my brand is my personal style.
What obstacles have you come across whilst building MAXHOSA to the brand it is today?
Quite a lot. In South Africa, the textile industry is deteriorating and out sourcing production is very difficult. It is also very expensive to produce locally. I was lucky enough to be the first one part of the ‘Art and Design incubator’ that the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University started. They supported me financially by providing me with seed capital to start my project. I have graduated from this three year program and from this year onwards I am going forward with my brand independently.
You’ve recently added homeware and a much-anticipated womenswear line that launched at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg. How did these come about?
I’d been getting quite a few requests for a women’s line locally and internationally so I decided to start one this year. For interior design, textile design can tap into a lot of products. I thought that I could branch into cushions. I’ve also collaborated with a company called Karoo looms that weaves rugs from the Karoo. I supply them with the design and they manufacture the hand-made rugs in the Karoo. Last year, I did a collaboration with Hinterveld in Port Elizabeth and made Mohair throws.
Where do you see MAXHOSA and yourself as a designer growing/going in the future?
I would love to have a concept store in major cities like in Johannesburg, Cape Town, London and Paris. It’s not an easy achievement but I’d like to accomplish that in the future.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur following in your footsteps?
Hard work opens any doors. Also, people should not focus on the success of external subjects but focus on themselves and their own work as everyone is unique.
Keep updated with Laduma at www.africanknitwear.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Look out for the first MAXHOSA fashion film being released on 10and5 next week!
Image credits: www.sdr.co.za