Local Talent: African-Inspired Fashion

PHOTOS Simon Deiner / SDR Photo WORDS Malibongwe Tyilo

Looking for African-inspired fashion, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only paying attention to the well-known bold prints. At the South African Menswear Week, the 2016/17 Spring Summer collections, local designers reminded us that in addition to these familiar prints, our surroundings are a constant source of inspiration that is no less African.

Lukhanyo Mdingi


Driven by a desire for a contemporary interpretation of our African heritage, Lukhanyo Mdingi looked to celebrate symbols. “With every collection I feel more connected to my roots, not just the Eastern Cape but also Africa as a whole,” says Lukhanyo. “With the Purgation collection I looked to different African iconography. I looked to the South African flag as well as the repetitive geometric patterns typical of Islamic architecture, such as you would find in Morocco. I researched the meanings and history behind both, which in turn informed the print design and the colours.”

Rich Mnisi and Thebe Magugu


Troubled by narrow definitions of the African experience, these two designers and best friends presented an unfiltered interpretation of their own African experiences: “When we started this collection, the nostalgia that undercuts the passing of time held our fascination as we started having a conversation around recontextualisation and how basic staples could be reimagined, fashioned and even considered modern,” the pair announced prior to showing their collaborative collection. “It made us start reading the work of fashion theorists who expand on the theory of ‘the west’ and ‘the rest’. With this in mind, we wanted to create a collection that merges all these ideas of Africanism, modernity and family history together with our own experiences and views of what it was like growing up in an African home.”



Chu Suwannapha is well known for his mastery of prints. Season after season, he presents the more traditional African-style prints in new combinations, designs and styles. “The theme was Tribal Tropical,” says Chu. “It’s the mixed messages of the south, from South America, South Pacific and South East Asia to South Africa. It’s tropical with the realism of tribes. I gave different characters to each of the models, from a warrior to the chief of the tribe. The prints are more op art and graphic than palm trees and floral prints. I chose, for example, African paint stroke prints in blue and white to replace nautical stripes, and African floor mat prints in brown and white to replace florals.” As always, we love his print combinations, but the knitwear blows us away.

Browse the gallery above to view a selection of these talented creators’ bold designs.