Designers We Love: Mlondolozi Hempe

INTERVIEWED BY Palesa Kgasane


We chat to local designer Mlondolozi Hempe of creative platform Umongo about collaborating, how he got into design, and new projects on the horizon.

Who is Mlondolozi? How did you start doing what you do?

I am a creative who uses my background in architecture to explore design by tapping into numerous avenues of the creative space, not only curated product and furniture design, but also spatial planning for exhibitions, design events and interiors. I would like to push the envelope through creative consulting for product and brand development. It all started in 2014 with the 12 Rooms Exhibition and the collaboration that I did with MaXhosa by Laduma. This interior design exhibition gave me the opportunity to explore an avenue of design I wanted to be in for a while, namely furniture and product, as well as interior design.

Tell us about your project with MaXhosa and the Imbadu Collective?

The project with MaXhosa was an interior design exhibition influenced by a Nguni-inspired living space – a space where an urban Nguni person would feel comfortable filled with objects they could identify with. This was key to our aesthetic, as spaces like these are hard to come by. Our objective was to create a synergy between the strong MaXhosa aesthetic and my products. The key pieces that anchored the space were the Inkundla-inspired sofa, the wooden potjie and MaXhosa rug. The Inkundla sofa is inspired by the concept of sitting in a circle and encourages communication, which is key to any household. The design of the potjie, a rural element that is common in many homes, was reinterpreted. The rugs layered the space with warmth, bringing all of these elements together.

The Imbadu Collective saw designers from a range of different disciplines, including Atang Tshikare, Zukisani Mrwetyana, Inga Gubeka, Trevor Stuurman, Andile Dyalvane, Laduma Ngxokolo and Loyiso Mkhize, forming a creative network. This turned into a unique opportunity. We had an exhibition where we paired up different creatives from different disciplines to get them out of their normal creative spaces. My role involved co-organising, curating and designing products for the exhibition. The result was a myriad of unique works coming out of the collaborations, including The Dream Chair by ceramic artist Andile Dyalvane, musician Dizu Plaatjie and myself. The most important part of the collective was the creative workshops that were run in Langa for community development, inspiring local school kids and showing that a career can be made from being creative, something that is rare in our communities.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently doing some collaborative work with Zukisani Mrwetyana from Mnganam Creations. We are doing a collaboration on lights using upcycled glass bottles to show people that discarded things can be turned into beautiful objects. I also collaborated with Maria Uys from Afrigarde on a chair inspired by one of her neck pieces. The chair is made up of felt, African blackwood and steel.

How would you describe the South African art scene right now?

The South African scene is interesting at the moment. There are a lot of emerging creatives, especially African ones creating new and interesting work. It still has a long way to go in terms of creatives understanding the business element of what we do. On the whole, we are growing and I think many interesting things are still going to happen.

Where can people get in touch to find out more about your work?

People can follow me on Instagram to keep an eye on what I’m doing. For more information, they can email me at mlo@umongoo.co.za.