Laduma Ngxokolo is a South African knitwear designer who is using his cultural inheritance to carry Xhosa heritage into the future.
To see images of Laduma’s designs, click here
The designer is from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and studied Textile Design and Technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. In his fashion short ‘My Heritage, My Inheritance’ the designer takes the audience through the journey of initiation that Xhosa males undergo in order to become a man1. The designer is a descendant of the Mpondo clan and it was his own experience of this traditional initiation ritual that led to the development of his knitwear collection, Maxhosa by Laduma.
The initiates retreat to undergo this journey of change from boy to man, and the journey is followed by the requirement to burn their old clothes as a way to mark their new role and responsibility. Throughout the following six months tradition dictates that a gentlemanly dress code is followed but popular among the initiates was a Western style of smart knitwear that didn’t represent a local cultural identity. Laduma explains, “as a person who has undergone that journey, I felt that I had to develop knitwear that carries my Xhosa heritage aesthetics.”2
Laduma’s late mother was a knitwear designer in the 1980s whose own dream of travelling to Paris was never fulfilled: living in apartheid South Africa, the opportunity never emerged.3 But for Laduma his heritage, his mother’s legacy and a new, more open South Africa allowed him to create a collection that now retails in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Namibia and London.“4
It was in 2010 that Laduma discovered a collection of Xhosa beadwork that he described as having astonishing patterns and colours.2 “I found Xhosa designs, some of them from the 1800s, and translated them digitally into knitwear patterns, which I then transferred to a knitting program.”4 “My initial aim was to find design solutions for Xhosa initiates. I wanted to showcase the astonishing beauty of the Xhosa people and translate it in a modern way that actually appeals to the current youth that is influenced by international trends.“5 The designer discussed the success of the brand and reflects that it has been well received from different races and cultures, “I think that was because everyone could somehow relate to the designs because they know where they are rooted.”6
Ngxokolo is not alone in his desire to address the relevance of South African heritage. His Royal Highness Unathi Phathuxolo Mtirara discusses the reason he chose to wear traditional Xhosa dress at his wedding ceremony in 2012: “As the young African generation (even more with us Xhosa’s) we tend to follow the western traditions when we do things. This leaves our cultures and traditions not relevant to us and we end up undermining who we are as the people. I think it’s more important to keep reminding us who we are, what our forefathers did, celebrate the beauty of our culture, our food and all.”7
Text by Elena Kate Gifford.