Emulating female power through fashion

Thebe Magugu pays homage to the important people in his life with original couture.

Part of the Project

From the Series

Thebe Magugu is one of Design Indaba's 2017 Emerging Creatives as well as the co-creator of the The Hawker's Rocking Chair, one of the 10 Most Beautiful Object in South Africa 2017 nominees. He is a fashion designer based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who continues to draw from his childhood in the city of Kimberley to produce unique and contemporary couture.

Magugu’s longstanding admiration for the strong women in his life defines his creative vision as an independent designer. We spoke to Magugu about these influencers – the ladies that raised him to be the industrious young couturier he is today.

“Positive role-models in my life have always been women. It was their resilience and grace through really testing times that showed me the extent of their power,” he said.

Thebe Magugu "A Social Science" collection

Inspired by the natural confidence of his matriarchal forebearers, Magugu now aims to give women a tangible conduit to live in a similarly authentic and stylish way.

“It was through this that I wanted the women I dress one day – whether they are in a working or home environment – to be able to feel empowered by my clothing, or rather, further express their power,” he adds.

Magugu explains the underlying impact that life in the remote community of Kimberley has had on his career. Apart from the family members immediately surrounding his childhood, the designer reflects on the altruistic attitude of his hometown and how its far-flung geography moved him to start a small publication dealing with conversations about fashion on his own.

Thebe Magugu "A Social Science" collection

“Growing up in Kimberley was incredible. The people are kind and there is a deep sense of community. However, it’s a very small town, so people aren’t very interested in fashion. In high school I wanted to change that, or at least bring about a discourse about fashion.

I started a magazine called Little Black Book, which dealt with fashion, trend analysis and lifestyle but also touched on important issues like racism, sexual orientation and the importance of individualism. It was like a personal journal of everything I was going through at the time."

Thebe Magugu "A Social Science" collection

"I had the privilege of being surrounded by amazing schoolmates during this time – Trevor Stuurman (fashion photographer), Lucille Slade (musician), Bronwyn Katz (visual artist) and Tsepo Tsotetsi (fashion designer) ­– who helped shape Little Black Book.”

Now, Magugu enjoys occupying the notional territory between different extremes in his designs, unafraid to command both masculinity and feminity, for example. The designer often merges two opposing themes to create a unique garment.

Thebe Magugu fashion collection

“I think my obsession with juxtaposition comes from my eclectic set of interests which often intersect. I think cross-referencing makes way for fresher ideas – for example, ‘Victoriana’ as a theme has been done, ‘Steampunk’ has been done – but what happens if we merge these two very opposite subjects?

"Juxtaposition can create interesting and intellectual discourses. Another duality I find very interesting is the idea of concealing and revealing. Apart from its literal implication, fashion can give one the ability to edit oneself; it’s a negotiation of who you really are and what you aspire to be.”

Thebe Magugu fashion collection