Design Journey: Karabo Poppy

karabo poppy

WORDS Celeste Jacobs

Karabo Poppy Moletsane combines her design skills with an aesthetic that celebrates Africa – then, now and in the future. In her work, timelessness and futurism merge to form globally recognised, locally inspired collaborations.


I was commissioned by the University of California, in Berkeley, to collaborate with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive on this Afrofuturist mural, which is 21m by 7m. It’s a portrait series of South Africans who embody a contemporary South African aesthetic, looking at where our country has been and where it is headed, as well as how a hybridisation of tradition and future thought will inform our growth. Celebrating this on the walls of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive was a memorable experience. There were plenty of “firsts” on this project: it was my first overseas commission, the first mural of this size that I created, and my first visit to the US.


In creating this collection of three Air Force 1 designs, I was inspired by the diverse visual aesthetic of parts of Africa, both contemporary and traditional. Our aesthetic has a long, rich heritage rooted in constant innovation – something that every African carries with them. It’s in the everyday, seemingly mundane events that this aesthetic is at its most beautiful to me. Through Nike By You, people could customise my designs too, so this became more than just a collaboration. Each design made use of a completely new technique on the Air Force 1, from raised embroidery to embroidered patches over the swoosh. This sold-out collection has been seen on the feet of LeBron James, Off set, Rhapsody and Conceited.

2019 – COCA COLA

This collaboration showcased where I believe kindness starts – and I believe it begins by celebrating diversity. As a young black woman living in South Africa, I (together with the rest of the country) have been tasked with finding harmony after conflict. Reaching this goal has relied on all of us showing kindness to one another by celebrating our diversity. Part of this project was the creation of a “Kindness Starts with Celebrating Diversity” billboard in Times Square, New York.


Early in 2020, I created an illustration inspired by the West African Adinkra symbol, Kwatakye Atiko – said to be a special hairstyle of Kwatakye, a war captain of old Asante – for Afropunk. It represents bravery and fearlessness, and is given as an earned title to any brave son of an Akan community. The piece is about being unapologetic, having a sense of self and owning who you are, especially when that becomes life-threatening and requires an enormous amount of courage. This illustration serves to honour and celebrate those who are showing up as they truly are, and encourage a sense of owning your identity no matter what.


The Running Errands capsule collection combines different styles intersecting multiple identities, indicating movement, energy and constant growth – just as complex as our country, with its diverse people and cultures puzzle-pieced together.