Weaving Cultural Stories

Fashion design, like every form of creative expression, plays an important role in connecting people with one another and with themselves. It is through this powerful art form that young designers such as Thandazani Nofingxana knit together stories that remind us of who we are as Africans and how we are connected to one another. So many young, emerging designers are rewriting the African story and inviting us to do the same.

 

GUIDING US TO OURSELVES

A native of Mthatha, Thandazani values not only his Xhosa culture but also holds in high esteem other Africans cultures. He believes that culture is an aspect of our society upon which everything we experience as a human being is predicated. His number one priority is to always honour culture through his designs; there is something quite sacred about his work as a designer. His creative process is driven by colour, culture and emotions. “I believe that everything we as the human race experience is based on the three concepts, and that is what I’m trying to communicate using.”

Thandazani uses fashion design as a compass to direct him to who he is as an African in general and as a Xhosa man in particular. A spirit of nostalgia guides him and helps him make sense of his identity, as well as the broader cultural nuances in his life. “I love the idea of looking at a piece of work and it reminds me of something from home or where I come from in the Eastern Cape.” There are overt traces of his culture in his designs. “There is an orange traditional Xhosa dress, umbhaco, usually worn by Amabomvana from the Eastern Cape that I have loved since I was a kid. All the pieces from two of my ranges contain the orange colour as a reference to that dress. I also use trims and lines to reference some design elements from umbhaco.”

 

"I see a massive rise in storytelling through textiles"

 

Thandazani’s commitment to honouring his culture extends to the finer details of design. The different patterns and shapes he incorporates into his pieces play an important role in ensuring that he represents his culture in a manner that is respectful. “In my work, I use organic shapes and geometric shapes. When creating a pattern, you need to be really precise and accurate with your design elements, especially in the clothing field. Conceptually, the patterns you see on my garments represent something and that’s culture.” Thandazani is very particular when it comes to selecting textiles and colours for his designs. His consciousness and integrity are seen even in how he makes use of textiles and colour. His respect is not limited to culture; it extends to the environment as well. “Good quality textiles and environmental friendly are key, my prints are digitally printed so I can pretty much print on any fabric I wish to you. When it comes to colours I try to choose really striking colours like orange, having worked with 3 different cultural elements I also try to represent a culture I’ve taken inspiration from as much a possible.”

 

 

FASHIONABLE ACTIVISM

As with many African designers, Thandazani’s agenda as a creative in the fashion industry transcends garnering vast adulation from fashion trendsetters and aficionados; the purpose, for African designers, is to share the African narrative in a way that dispels archaic myths and tells the truth of Africa, with its nuances and beautiful medley of cultures, languages and ethnicities. He uses fashion design as a platform to have conversations that are necessary, albeit uncomfortable. “Culture is the only thing I have left. I want to recreate the idea behind the ‘African fabrics, I want to make embedded textiles with messages of anti-xenophobia, anti-racism, anti-alcoholism basically I want to talk about social issues we are facing right as the youth, I have an entire range of prints that are based on peoples biggest insecurities.” More than a fashion designer, Thandazani proudly takes on the role of a messenger and initiator of critical discourse. “In 50 years from now, I want people to look at my pieces and actually see through these prints how I was using digital textiles as a form of communication.” Thandazani’s collections have always been conduits for him to express his frustrations with warped societal perceptions of beauty, humanhood, and justice. Through his previous collections, Rich Is Black and Vice Versa, he has dealt with issues such as race, emotions and insecurities. His latest collection, SITHI ABA (this is us) was inspired by the mixed ethnicities that exist within South Africa. He drew inspiration from encounters he had with two ladies of mixed ethnicities; one is half Xhosa and half Ugandan, and the other is half Xhosa and Nigerian. The collection is a response to the disturbing prevalence of Afrophobia in South African communities when Africans from other countries are attacked in the brutal of forms.

“SITHI ABA [is always written] in capital letters because I wanted to make a statement for them that is against xenophobic attacks in South Africa, so SITHI ABA is almost like saying ‘we are here and there’s nothing you can do about it, our fathers and mothers may not be from South Africa, but we were born here so this is our home and we won’t be bullied by you, SITHI ABA!’” SITHI ABA is an unapologetic display of who we are as Africans – unashamed of our collective and individual identities, and every element that accompanies them.

 

Thandazani's agenda as a creative in the fashion industry transcends garnering vast adulation

 

Thandazani is a complete paragon of black excellence. When you look at his designs or engage with him in conversation, you can’t help but be moved by the energy of black excellence that he exudes. For him, excellence is an innate part of who we are as Africans. “ [Black excellence] feels like being a human excellent being, there’s nothing we haven’t seen or heard, man. We’ve been kings and queens, slaves, philosophers, architects, designers etc. And now we are here. Me talking to you about my art, and what I am trying to say to the world.

 

THE FUTURE OF DESIGN IN SOUTH AFRICA

As an emerging designer with a blinding future ahead of him, even after having come up against many challenges in his journey, Thandazani is positive about the future of South African design, noting that people are starting to realise the importance of supporting local designers. Design in South Africa and the continent as a whole has become more and more about telling our stories; and this is what consumers are responding to. “People are starting to understand the idea of supporting your own, as far as buying is concerned. Designers are producing good quality products, and I see a massive rise in storytelling through textiles, which is so cool.”

African fashion is truly a form of art that has stood the test of time and has given us a formidable language through which to express our various identities and ethnicities. With prolific designers such as Thandazani, Rich Mnisi, Amy Laird Cherry, Mzukisi Mbane and Anisa Mpungwe at the helm of South Africa’s fashion industry, there is much to be excited about. We can all look forward to our stories being told throughout the continent and the world.