The rise of african fashion

By Michael Kachitsa

The upmarket South African fashion brand appeals to young men like Mahlare because it taps into a growing desire to display the continent’s rich and authentic heritage. Maxhosa is not trying to copy Western designs but rather captures one of the many facets of the black empowerment movement that has been gaining traction in Africa and beyond. Maxhosa interprets into modern knitwear traditional beadwork patterns, symbolism and colors of the Khosa people, one of South Africa’s biggest ethnic groups.

“I am really inspired by Laduma even though I am not in fashion,” says Mahlare’s friend Sashin Pillay Gonzalez, 24, who is leaving Cape Town next month for Dublin to work for Google. The two young men were sitting next to one another at Maxhosa’s fashion show in Cape Town on Friday night, which was attended by several high-profile figures including fashion critic Suzy Menkes (in town for the Conde Nast International luxury conference) and South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe.

Maxhosa by Laduma, a brand started less than a decade ago, is now sold in many cities in Africa as well as the Shop at the Blue Bird in London; the Onchek, an online retailer based in the United States specialized in luxury African fashion and The Native Nation concept store in Lyon, France. Maxhosa is the best performing African fashion brand sold at Merchants on Long, a concept store specialized in African design and Africa-sourced produce nestled in the heart of Cape Town. It was founded by Hanneli Rupert, daughter of Johann Rupert, chairman and controlling shareholder of Cartier and Chloe-owner Richemont. Rupert is one of many who have believed in the success of Laduma Ngxokolo ever since he founded his Maxhosa brand.

“It’s been great to see the attitude change towards African fashion,” says Hanneli Rupert. “It’s gone from having been something specific to a worldwide interest and we have been one of the voices speaking out for African designers and showcasing their work.”

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Ngxokolo, now 32, says he saw a gap on the African continent and among expats abroad for products that were “distinctly African, bold and outstanding.” The young designer obtained a scholarship to complete a masters’ degree in material futures at London’s Central St. Martins that was partly funded by WeTransfer. He has won many prizes, including the Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa award in 2015. Ngxokolo says he is excited that this year, two of the eight finalists for the LVMH fashion prize come from Africa: Thebe Magugu from South Africa and Kenneth Ize from Nigeria. But he added about the nominations: “I hope that this is not a compliance choice.”

“I feel a buzz around African fashion but if they were really serious, we would see more African brands in Galeries Lafayette or at Liberty in London, and they would have concessions, not just pop-ups,” says Ngxokolo. He thinks interest is held back by concerns about how long these new African brands will last and how quickly they can deliver stock.