Basotho and Xhosa heritage inspires SA’s ‘most beautiful’ designs

JANUARY 21, 2016
Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana (Photograph: Colin Mileman)

NELSON MANDELA BAY clothing designer, Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana, crafts contemporary fashion using traditional Basotho blankets – and one of her designs, titled “Starburst Coat”, is one of the 10 contenders in Design Indaba’s prestigious Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) 2016 exhibition.

She and another MBOISA finalist – knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo, whose works are inspired by traditional Xhosa culture – are both alumni of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth.

The travelling exhibition, which opened in Johannesburg last week (11 January), moves to Durban on January 26, and then Cape Town on February 8. The overall winner will be determined by public vote and announced at the Design Indaba Festival in Cape Town on February 19.

The 10 finalists were nominated by a select panel of influential commentators on South African culture, including museum curators, radio and TV commentators, designers and editors. Among the more unusual contenders for the top prize are Johannesburg chef Candice Philip’s pea wasabi mousse dish, a skateboard designed by Longboards founder Kent Lingeveldt, and the book “Twenty Journey”, compiled by three young photographers Sean Metelerkamp, Wikus de Wet and Sipho Mpongo, who travelled South Africa for seven months, documenting the country’s many faces.

Makhetha-Kwinana, 28, said her use of Basotho blankets was a reminder of her heritage. “It’s an interpretation of my culture in modern days. These traditional blankets are daily attire in Lesotho. When people move away to big cities, they leave their traditional culture behind. My work is a way of having the traditional keep up with the times.” Since leaving Lesotho at the age of three, Makhetha-Kwinana has lived in a string of big cities, including Johannesburg, Pietermartizburg and Mafikeng. In March, she is relocating to Cape Town.

Her “Starburst Coat” consists of panels that come together at the back, resulting in the perceived “starburst”. It was one of several items she sent to Elle Magazine last year for a fashion shoot – and it was Elle editor Emilie Gambade who nominated the piece.

“It is uniquely African; combines heritage, craft and beautiful proportions; it is timeless, colourful and says a lot about who we are and where we are from but at the same time it is exceptionally modern and very contemporary,” said Gambade.

Makhetha-Kwinana, who graduated with a national diploma in fashion design from NMMU in 2008, is a living advertisement for her boutique store in Port Elizabeth, which houses her “Thabo Makhetha” range. “My shop is a giant wardrobe.”

Johannesburg-based Ngxokolo, 29, a knitwear designer who completed his BTech in textile design in 2010, has won numerous awards here and abroad for his Maxhosa by Laduma fashion label.

His shawl was nominated for MBOISA 2016 by designer and curator Tracy Lee Lynch, who said: “When I started looking for the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa … for a piece that I found really spoke to me, I found this particular piece – the shawl.”

“I always design with an intention to make my products relative and relevant to the South African market as much as possible,” said Ngxokolo, who is completing his masters in Material Futures at London’s Central Saint Martins.

The pattern in the middle section of the 3m by 1m shawl was inspired by the textures of ripe “umnqusho”, a traditional Xhosa dish. The end sections are inspired by traditional Xhosa decor embellishment styles and beadwork motifs.

  • To vote for the 2016 Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA), go to: www.designindaba.com/events/mboisa-2016