Siyethemba Duma, founder of Matte Nolim, based in Johannesburg, is contemporary. Born in Pietermaritzburg, in the East of South Africa, life in this small town was simple and perfect for a dreamer like Siyethemba before he spread his wings in urban Johannesburg.
His designs are timeless and look past age. Influenced particularly by what might be called the working class, he reinvents these sartorial notes for ready to wear high end fashion. Matte Nolim's latest collection for Autumn Winter, Ingwe idla ngamabala, plays with prints and colours, stretching beyond tradition and expectations.The title is the zulu proverb a leopard eats with its spots, it means each person survives off their talent.
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Could you introduce yourself and your fashion label Matte Nolim?
My birth name is Siyethemba Duma, my alter ego name is Mathew Nolim. He calls the shots at Matte Nolim, a luxury womenswear brand based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
You were born in the Eastern part of South Africa – more specifically Pietermaritzburg and you studied at The Durban University of Technology. What was the experience like learning and growing up here and do your formative years influence your design approach today?
Pietermaritzburg is a very chilled place, a small town, good for a simple life. It is a great setting for a big dreamer, I remember the kinds of designs I used to make in Pietermaritzburg. Going to university helped me a lot in terms of understanding clothing production more. I remember the first 2 years I was taught mostly theory and construction. This allowed all my crazy ideas to be able to reach the right audience. I value the time I spent at university so much because it led me to create my vision of design and aesthetics. I was just creative - on the wild side. All that was honed and polished by my lecturers - who went out of their way for me. I guess they saw potential in me
You established Matte Nolim in 2014, I bet that the brand has evolved since then. How you would describe this evolution? What is your vision now when it comes to your label?
It’s so crazy how I started off designing for older women, they loved the quality of my work and kept coming back. This type of customer became my muse because they were investing in me and kept coming back for more. In 2016, I moved to Johannesburg after realising I could grow beyond Pietermaritzburg. When I got to Johannesburg my environment was different this older woman was out of reach now and I was evolving with a much younger audience. This gave birth to my first successful collection under Matte Nolim and introduced me to the big city. Fast-forward, years later my surrounding has been altered again. My customers are expanding and growing with them is as important as keeping the brand's identity.
From an aesthetic point of view, what would you say are the main features of Matte Nolim? For who are your designs made for?
Redefining modern minimalism has always been an obsession. I guess it has a lot to do with my audience. I know they want clothes that are different because they simply already have so many options. With Matte Nolim I give them fashion-forward designs that allow them to make a statement - meant to never be forgotten. Matte Nolim is made for a young spirited woman. She believes that age is just a number. She has an elegance that oozes from her gestures. Her age is the one thing that does not define her.
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You grew up in South Africa, how does this environment influence your practice of fashion design?
South Africa wasn’t always known for the kind of fashion I do. Dressmakers here were called designers. They were good at making clothes that were inspired by other designs. They took inspiration from magazine pages, for instance. The country is still very much influenced by this kind of approach so as an African designer I try to balance being African in 2021 versus how the world views us as African.
Speaking of influences, what would you say are your main inspirations while designing? How would you describe your creative process overall?
Firstly, I do not sketch, at all. I think I stopped sketching 4 years ago. All my designs are born from a paperless approach with a 4 step design process. It is about the evolution of ideas rather than designing. Lately, I have also been obsessed with African subculture's styling, but in general, I enjoy inspirations from things associated with African poverty or lower class and re-imagining that as more high end fashion. I think this is my job as an African designer.
Recently, Elsa Majimbo wore your trench coat for GQ. How do you feel when you have editorial requests for personalities like her?
She owned that look. I think I was more excited by the fact that they styled her in the whole look as I designed it with the shirt and tie. That was a nice pat on the back. I love collecting these magazine features.
The coat Elsa wore was part of your last Fall-Winter collection: Ingwe idla ngamabala. What was the concept behind it? What inspired you for this last collection?
This body of work was designed during COVID19 lockdown. I remember talking to my people and telling them that we need to do something a bit uncomfortable and unexpected. We weren’t so big on print in the beginning and wanted to expand on that specific aspect. The use of colour was also a priority. It led to the concept of a saying in Zulu, Ingwe Idla Nga Mabala (a leopard eats with its spots). It was an experimental project that is ongoing. It aims to elevate African aesthetics to ready to wear.
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The African continent has been under a lot of attention lately in the fashion world – especially thanks to social media. How do you feel about it? What are your hopes for the industry in South Africa specifically?
It is a really exciting time for African fashion designers. I think the world is genuinely interested in the African perspective as the western world has had its turn to speak. I hope the industry becomes a world league for all designers to play in more than a South African thing.
In 2019, you did a show at the Johannesburg Fashion Week. Today, under the circumstances of a global pandemic, the relevance of traditional fashion shows is truly questioned. Do you see yourself doing other fashion shows or do you think about other forms to showcase your collection?
I have been adjusting to this change and it is super uncomfortable for a young designer. However, it is quite evident that it won’t go back to what was once a norm. We are busy restructuring traditional shows to aim for a completely independent form. It needs to be outside of Fashion Weeks - which was our former playground.
What is the next step for Matte Nolim?
I think the past years have been all about experimenting and talking to our customers. It also has been about getting to know them and their wallet better. It is really exciting because as they evolve, we evolve with them. We are eager about our future. We hope to expand beyond our country’s borders and to be at the heart of the global fashion space.
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