Sindiso Khumalo: We’re embracing our heritage and subverting it

This fashion designer’s latest collection marks a change for her but she thinks we’re only starting to see Africa’s full creative potential.

“The main inspiration for my new collection was the idea of a body changing,” says textile and fashion designer Sindiso Khumalo about her latest, more monochromatic fashion collection. The Durban-raised, London-based designer surprised the audience at Design Indaba Conference 2015 with a live launch when models wearing her new designs strode down the aisles and onto the stage.

Making use of neutral colours and subtle patterns, the collection deviates from her usual bright colour palette and bold patterns. “It’s a very subtle collection and very opposite to the work I was doing prior,” she says. 

Drawing on her heritage, the prints are inspired by Zulu beadwork, but are printed in white on floaty fabrics such as silk organza. “It’s more like the memory of a print,” Khumalo says. “It’s like there used to be a print there but it’s no longer there.” After becoming a mother last year, she wanted to reference the woman she was before and the woman she is after.

Khumalo detects a shift in the way designers in Africa are drawing on their own traditions. “I think at the moment in Africa we are going through amazing renewal,” she says. “I don’t think it’s just in the fashion industry, but the whole design profession. We’re embracing our heritage and subverting it.”

She thinks it’s something that African designers have been slower to catch on to than their counterparts outside the continent. “We as Africans are taking hold of this source of inspiration that so many people have been using, and we are making it ours,” she explains.  She points to the strong level of talent coming out of Nigeria and West Africa, which have rich histories of craft to tap into.

Khumalo’s own work began drawing even more on South African crafting traditions after she saw the embroidered mielie-bag cushions that Africa Ignite exhibited at Design Indaba Expo in 2013. This encounter led to her collaborating with the Kwazulu-Natal non-profit organisation on a series of hand-embroidered t-shirts for her Autumn/Winter collection that year. The collaboration is a fruitful and ongoing one, as Africa Ignite crafters are working on samples for her next Autumn/Winter collection. 

 “For me collaboration is huge,” she says. “It allows me to pull in resources and merge things that might not usually belong together.” 

Watch the Talk with Sindiso Khumalo