NMMU fashion design student gearing up for coveted international competition


A last minute notification and a spontaneous decision to enter a prestigious textile competition had earned Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) student Kristen Ristow national honours in the South African leg of the Society of Dyers and Colourists International Design competition.

Ristow, 21, became the sixth NMMU student to win the South African leg of the annual competition and is now a finalist gearing up to take on competitors from around the world – including China, India, Australia, the UK – in the final competition in Shanghai, China, in November.

The third year design student was lauded for her entry “Spirit”, which she put together overnight after Applied Design lecturer Harm Grobbelaar informed her that the competition was not only open to fourth year students.

Having seized the moment and worked through the night to put some finishing touches to her existing story boards, a still incredulous Ristow could not believe what she was hearing when Grobbelaar phoned her on Friday night to say she had won the national competition.

“Harm phoned me on Thursday night, but I hadn’t heard yet [from the national office] for confirmation. He phoned me back on Friday – having left me a whole day in suspense – and told me and sent me the email [from the national office],” she said.

“I didn’t actually believe it. Luckily, I was home [in East London] for the weekend so I shared the news with the family. Everyone was so excited.”

Ristow was up against some stiff competition and beat 12 other entrants – the most entries in a South African leg of the competition – from NMMU, Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Her entry – a hand- and machine-knitted matching brown, blue and cream ‘his and hers’ mohair garment set – was inspired by The Hunger Games and the concept of segregation according to occupation and wealth – which she likened to what she perceived as the country’s socioeconomic reality.

“This was for the mohair section of our range for this year. It is inspired by segregation within society. My whole range is based on The Hunger Games and the different occupations and wealth so I thought it related to South Africa. The brown represents the hardships, the blue represents the royalty and the cream is a merge of both – for me, a society that is not biased according to money,” Ristow said.

“It is my interpretation of society in way. This is symbolic because my whole range is based on outfits which represent poor and which represent wealthy. So this is the final two that come out and form the unity between the two – so it is a mix of the rich, the poor and the neutral.

“I feel like South Africa is also segregated according to occupation and wealth, much like The Hunger Games, so this was my take on an ideal that society could not be segregated according to occupation.”

SA Dyers’ and Finishers’ Association (SADFA) chairwoman Heidi Dinan said Ristow’s entry had impressed judges as it effectively encapsulated all aspects of the brief.

“The entries were judged on the use of colour, the concept, presentation and the theme “Making it Personal”.  Kristen had excellent overall implementation across all aspects of the brief,” Dinan said.

NMMU’s Fashion Design department returned to the competition with a bang, following a two-year hiatus.

Its first student to win the national competition and go on to bag the global title was MaXhosa designer Laduma Ngxokolo, with the win effectively launching his international career.

Two other NMMU students went on to bag the international competition after Ngxokolo’s 2010 win, giving the university a hat trick that essentially placed the institution’s Design Department on an international pedestal.

Grobbelaar said winning the competition again was a welcome feather in the cap for the Fashion Department, which said was fairly small in comparison to other universities’ in the country.

“Being internationally recognised and getting the chance to go up against international competitors puts us in a very good position. We are not the biggest fashion department in South Africa, but it is good that we are making an impact,” he said.

“We are very proud of Kristen’s achievement and hope that this is our return into the competition. In future, we plan to create more awareness to students early on to keep the competition in mind.”

With NMMU fashion design student mainly lauded for their mohair creation, Grobbelaar said this was fitting as the Eastern Cape – and Port Elizabeth in particular – is the country’s mohair capital.