On dressing the spirit – Twin creatives Duduzile and Smangele Mathebula talk ancestry and style

This month, 10and5 brings you a series of conversations featuring five womxn from across southern Africa, centred on topics such as preserving history, culture, self-expression and more. As Heritage Day approaches on 24 September, and evokes further dialogue around culture, this series aims to explore how heritage and tradition is expressed and thought about among a few contemporary womxn in South Africa’s creative community. 

Photographs by Madelene Cronje

Smangele and Duduzile Mathebula are creatives, born and raised in Soweto, namely Dobsonville and Meadowlands. Smangele is a literary strategist and behind creative agency Madibookeng. While her twin Duduzile is a fashion designer and owner of label Dear Magic, a “spirit capsule of sustainable and life cycle clothing label”, according to the sisters.

The two also work together on the support and information network for mothers by mothers, called Bomme and have recently started Sukuma Creative, a social enterprise that uses creativity and design to develop products that seek to effect social change and upliftment, especially for women and children. Smangele and Duduzile invited us into their Joburg home to speak on dressing the spirit.

Please, could you tell us about your cultural background.
Smangele: We come from quite a mishmash background. We don’t say we’re Zulu or Pedi or Swati; we’re just as expressive as it’s necessary.

Duduzile: If one has to go into history, a lot people from this tip of the continent are from somewhere else. In essence, we’re all one people, and that gives us a big diverse pot to choose from [when expressing heritage] and culturally interchange.

How would you describe your style?
Smangele: What we wear is comfortable and beautiful but also quite spirited, which symbolises our take on fashion and heritage. It has to feel good internally. These clothes encapsulate our style, which has always been bold and expressive.

Duduzile: It’s linked to the Dear Magic ethos, we aim to dress the spirit. Most of the time there are fads that come in and out, and one has to place where their spirit is. These clothes are mostly free flowing, and really a homage to our Africaness, with deep rooted African elements. Whether it’s the kente from Ghana or the leopard print, which has spiritual symbolism.

Is there a specific way you think of expressing heritage through fashion?
Duduzile: It’s not something one thinks about. For us, it’s about acknowledging that you’re African first, then that expression follows. It’s not a forced matter. We acknowledge that there are western influences that come into play but we try to have an element of Africa so that people know who you are and where you come from.

Smangele: There are tangible things about heritage and culture that we see, eat and do. But [expressing heritage] is intangible. It’s something more driven by where we come from, what we’ve experienced and where the spirit is leading us on that day. It’s a marriage of the things that influences who you are instead of pinpointing that to only a region or culture you are from.

What are you wearing today?
Smangele: We’re in a mix of our late mother’s clothes. And some of the clothes my sister makes as part of her label, Dear Magic.

Duduzile: We’re also wearing a top that has a young Mam’ Winnie Mandela on it. For us she’s the original style icon, there is nobody as beautiful as she is. She is considered the Mother of the Nation.

Smangele: Yeah, the Winnie Mandela top was part of a limited collection from Dear Magic. We’re also in Zulu skirts from Kwa Mai Mai Market and Heart Leads the Way shoes. This just shows how to incorporate different things that influence you; who you are whats around you and what you see.

Who are some of your style icons?
Duduzile: Our later mother. If you saw her looks and the way she carried herself and how expressive and comfortable she was … she mostly dressed her spirit than her body, which is what we aim to do. So we listen on the day to what your spirit is saying.

Smangele: The Carbon Copy twins, Noncedo and Nonzuzo Gxekwa, who are both photographers, and Maria McCloy, she’s quite an expressive and bold person. And definitely our parents.

Duduzile: Yep, they’ve always been big on presentation and expression.    

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