Grad Guide 2020: Alexandra van Heerden

“The brighter, bolder, more weird and wonderful it is… the more I love it,” says offbeat fashion and textile designer Alexandra van Heerden. The Durban University of Technology graduate constructs designs in the hope of challenging societal norms and what is deemed acceptable, particularly in the realm of sustainable fashion. She tells us more in an interview for 10and5’s annual graduate showcase.

Alexandra van Heerden. Photograph by Electric Media.

Where and what did you study? What was your experience like?

I have just completed my studies at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) where I received my Bachelor of Technology in fashion and textile design. The four years that I spent at DUT studying towards my degree in fashion were truly some of the best, most challenging, but most rewarding years of my life. I loved every minute of it. It was no walk in the park, but I believe that it allowed me to grow, not only into the designer that I am but also the individual.

What inspired you to pursue a path in fashion?

Towards the end of my matric year I was feeling rather unsettled about what I had had planned for my career path. Whenever the question, “So what are you doing next year?” reared its head at dinner with family, friends or at school with teachers, I felt uneasy at the choice that I had made. I would reply “I’m going to study teaching but after that I’m going to study fashion.” All I could think about was fashion, although I had never touched a sewing machine or even knew what a pattern was, it was all I could see myself doing. I realised I had chosen teaching for all the wrong reasons, it wasn’t my passion or my love, it was simply a degree that I had selected because I was too afraid to step out of my comfort zone and to go against the grain. With all my friends going to Stellenbosch and TUKS, I had convinced myself that there was nowhere else I could go, even if that wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t until one day my mom said to me, In order to be successful you have to do what makes you happy.” Although it’s cheesy it was a major turning point for me. This was when I decided to throw away all that I had in place and enroll at the Durban University of Technology to study something that makes me happy and excited to get up and get going every day. This was where my fashion and textile design journey began.

Tell us about your graduate collection in terms of inspiration, style, concept and construction.

Kindled by the demand for the fashion industry to approach sustainability from a new and innovative angle, the ‘Steam Cats & Scavvy Dogs’ S/S 20/21 collection was founded on the exigency of uncovering an unconventional form of fashion sustainability. More specifically, the motivation behind the creation of this collection was to investigate, develop and practice a new approach to fashion sustainability, through the collaboration with non-profit organisations, which addressed the current landfill issue with which we are faced as a result of the millions of tons of waste produced by the fashion industry each year.

Through an investigation into the fashion industry’s alarming contribution to the world’s landfill problem, an evaluation of new approaches which have been made to address this unsustainable industry practice and a look into the views of non-profit organisation shoppers on the current sustainability of landfills, it was deduced that landfills, as they are managed now, are having detrimental effects on our environment. Moreover, I believe that the production of innovative designs and the extent of their impact had on societal and environmental challenges is stagnant and insufficient.

In conjunction with such findings, support for the need for such a new and unconventional sustainable fashion practice was provided. Items which have been deemed redundant, useless or waste, such as dog jerseys, single socks, beaded broaches and more, were experimented with and used to create the garments presented as a part of the S/S 20/21 ‘Steam Cats & Scavvy Dogs’, which promotes sustainability and the work of the respective non-profit organisation.

These garments and this research present a new form of fashion sustainability which challenges the way that we, as consumers, designers, experts and stakeholders, view what constitutes sustainable fashion. Ultimately, this collection presents itself as the application of the investigated, explored and implemented unconventional form of fashion sustainability which, through the collaboration with the Kloof and Highway SPCA and the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in Durban, addresses the current landfill issue and the insufficiency of existing sustainable practices.

How would you describe your approach and philosophy as a fashion designer?

I would describe my approach and philosophy as a reconceptualisation, reexamination and redefinition of sustainable fashion. My brand Vanklan’s mission is to introduce fashion that challenges societies norms and what one considers sustainable. In an effort to collaborate with the work of non-profit organisations in the greater Durban area, Vanklan is proudly South African. My philosophy as a fashion designer is rooted in the idea that “no one has ever become poor by giving,” and Vanklan offers consumers a way to make a difference through their purchases. Not only are the contributions monetary, but the products produced by Vanklan are walking visual representations of local non-profit organisations which simultaneously address the world’s landfill issue.

Unusual, unorthodox and completely unfamiliar, my work presents an unconventional approach to sustainable fashion. The restricted view of acceptable sustainable fashion has been scrapped. A new form, which is absurd yet all-encompassing, outlandish but impactful and unprecedented whilst still remaining versatile, emerges as a challenge to what we as consumers, stakeholders and industry experts have accepted as sustainable fashion.

Who would you most like to collaborate with in the local fashion industry?

This is always a difficult question to answer but I would probably have to say Laduma Ngxokolo, designer and founder of MAXHOSA AFRICA. From a fashion designers view, I love the colour combinations that he uses and the unorthodox mixes and combinations of prints that his garments present but more specifically I’d like to collaborate with him because in 2019 he spoke at DUT and to this day I am still in awe and admiration of not only his beautiful work which tells a story and promotes sustainability but more so of his humility.

What are your plans for 2021?

At the moment I am working on a new collection which takes my work to another level of sustainability and in doing so I am trying to grow and fully establish my brand which focuses and presents an unconventional form of fashion sustainability.

Follow @vanklan_ on Instagram.


Editiorial Shoot | Photography: Aik Christodoulou and The Woods Photography, Hair and Make-Up: Cindi Laird, Models: Sedi Rajoale and Sarah Saunders, Designer: Vanklan

Studio Shoot | Photography: Courtney Warren, Model: Ayanda Kunene, Designer: Vanklan

Grad Guide is an annual series from Between 10and5, profiling some of South Africa’s most exciting creative graduates across the fields of fashion, art, photography and design. Find the full 2020 Grad Guide here.

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