An architect turned fashion designer, Sindiso Khumalo is no stranger to hard work. Having attended the University of Cape Town before moving to London to study fashion, Khumalo was determined to capture the essence of the black African experience through the medium of clothing. Today, Khumalo discusses the importance of culture, community and sustainability in her designs and brand ethos, and lets us in on the challenges she has had to face in adjusting to a Covid-19 world.
To commemorate the books, photographs, maps and more lost to a mountain fire earlier this year, her brand launches its Spring Summer 2022 collection Jagger, alongside a fashion film of the same name dedicated to the University of Cape Town Jagger Library.
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 16.jpg
Having originally studied Architecture at the University of Cape Town and worked in the sector for David Adjaye, what inspired you to make a change and establish your own fashion label in 2015?
It was a great privilege to work under Sir David Adjaye, and it really informed my practice. I always knew I was more interested in fashion, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. So textiles became a really powerful medium for me to work with and build my craft with.
Present in your designs is a strong cultural inspiration. How did pursuing a Masters in Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins inform the way that you design? Were the United Kingdom’s art school's teachings reconcilable with the themes present in your work, or did they clash with your perspectives?
Central St Martins was an incredible institution to attend. It opened my eyes up to the world of design that was very thoughtful and inspiring. In essence my time at St Martins was spent trying to discover my point of view. Through the lecturers and the staff, they really supported us in find our own unique story telling, to harness our lens and our way of making work that is very personal.
More recently, you were a joint winner of the LVMH prize, joined the Net-a-porter Vanguard Programme 2021, and even presented your SS21 collection at Milan Fashion Week. How have these opportunities changed your brand?
The LVMH Prize was very transformative, I went from being a small unknown brand in Cape Town to actually being invited to so many exciting opportunities. It was the real game changer for us, and the mentorship programmer under Sophie Brocart was everything our brand needed. It included having leaders in the industry speaking to us on a weekly basics about everything from PR to Logistics. LVMH also led to us being seen by Net -a-Porter and then in the end, invited onto the Vanguard programme which has also been such a tremendously supportive programme to be a part of, and learning from a major retailer like Net-a-Porter about the how to structure ones business and how to grow a brand has been a hugely valuable experience. I am very grateful for both experiences.
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 2.jpg
You've spoken before about how your brand is based upon the values instilled in you by your parents, having a mother for example, who fought against the Apartheid regime in your home country. You've also spoken on how important your South African heritage is when designing your textiles. Do you find it difficult to tell these stories via the visual medium that is fashion?
On the contrary, I find textiles such a wonderful medium to communicate with. You can talk about anything with a print, and it’s such a powerful craft. I just want to continue to grow my craft and tell more stories of the black African experience.
You've spoken about how the inspiration behind your Spring Summer 2021 collection was Harriet Tubman and her story of resistance against slavery, before that, your Spring Summer 2020 collection was inspired by Sarah Forbes Bonetta and her story of almost being sold into slavery. Does platforming these serious narratives play a part in the selection of your references, given how little visibility they often have in these types of circles?
I choose muses based on a my instinct and my heart. For a long time, I have been researching the transatlantic slave trade and it has always been something I wanted to speak about. Telling the stories of women like Harriet Tubman and Sarah Forbes Bonnetta for me ensure that they never become myths but are women who will go down in history as brave, powerful women who survived the greatest oppression. I also feel they are such inspirations. I sometimes think “If Harriet Tubman can save 70 slaves in her lifetime, I too can get through anything.”
A recurring theme within your brand is the importance of community. How do you go about embracing this in your creative endeavours? Riffing off of the importance of community and platforming underrepresented issues, how has working with NGO's (such as Embrace Dignity and the United Nations Ethical Fashion Initiative) impacted you and your work?
Community has been an intrinsic part of the brand. I come from a place with a huge poverty and huge talent. I guess for me it is a bout joining those dots and having young women who had come from difficult situations come and work for us. They learn from us and we also learn from them, it is my life’s work and my true joy. I don’t think our brand would exist without it being able to serve the communities it works with.
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 26.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 23.jpg
Conscious not only of political landscapes, your brand is also aware of the pressing climate situation. Something you've been vocal about is the importance of sustainability in fashion, incorporating it into the creative processes of your brand. Given the inherent importance placed on 'the new' in fashion (and the resulting pressure to always create more), could you tell us about the processes that Sindiso Khumalo employs as a brand to stay true to those values of sustainability?
It’s not been easy. Especially in South African where we have very limited access to textiles. For us having sustainable materials as a constant feature across the collection is very important. We have more recently collaborated with sustainable textile manufacturer Circular Systems, who make textiles from a combination of recycled cotton and organic waste. In our latest collection we have used this fabric for trench coats and dresses. Its been a wonderful collaboration and also meant that we can access some of the best sustainable materials on offer.
The world has changed quite a lot over the past 2 years due to the pandemic situation, and many brands have had to significantly change their processes to adapt. How have you dealt with the demands of this new fashion landscape, especially given your commitment to sustainable practices?
A lot has changed, I think that the care for ones clothing has been a big one. We really want to make pieces that are heirlooms. That are treasured. So that in a sense ties into creating a sustainable product that has longevity in it to us and appeal. I was handed down many beautiful pieces from my grandmother who was a pattern cutter and machinist. I am grateful to have these pieces and I believe that I want to make clothes that have the same robustness and also feel treasured by the wearer.
On September 26, you released Jagger, the fashion film produced for your Spring Summer 2022 collection of the same name. Having chosen to base the collection around the loss experienced when a mountain fire consumed the Cape Town Jagger African Studies Library, how did you settle on which visual references to use? The collection features bright floral embroidery and reflective silks. What inspired these choices?
Looking at the mountain today, you will see bright yellow wild flowers growing next to the black ashen trunks. This is echoed in the collection featuring bright hand embroidery, pink hand woven suiting, bold hand screen printed silks and ceramic buttons. I wanted to tell the story of hope coming from a very dark time, a bit like living in covid. There has been so much loss, but we must still hang onto hope. Many of the colours also come from the CMYK colour palette which was inspired by artist Githan Coopoo who guest art directed this collection.
Something notable that permeates your new collection is the depiction of humans on the garments. Depicted in the collection is Charlotte Maxeke, a South African revolutionary activist that you identified as a long-term muse. Could you speak on why you felt it important to incorporate this into your collection? What was it like working with Sinalo Ngcaba for the political illustrations?
Many photographs and political posters were lost in the fire. It was important for us to document them in the dresses and also to document important figures of history like Charlotte Maxeke. Snalo and I have been working together for two seasons, she truly understands our narrative and is just a joy to work with. I feel supremely grateful for the opportunity to have her onboard for another season.
Coming off the back of your Spring Sumer 2022 launch, the world can see the hard work that has been put in over the past year. But lastly, I wanted to ask what is next for you now? Will it be business as usual at Sindiso Khumalo?
There is a lot going on, it’s been a supremely busy year. I think in essence I want to just take time to focus on creating work that is of relevance. I do take a lot of time thinking about muses and what the collection focus will be, it's just a part of a bigger journey of making. Grateful to all the collaborators who have been part of this journey with me. We truly are a village.
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 11.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 15.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 18.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 19.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 21.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 24.jpg
Sindiso Khumal Metalmagazine 25.jpg