The New Vanguard: South Africa’s Rising Stars in Fashion
The fashion scene in South Africa is buzzing with a crop of young designers eager to push the envelope. With Thebe Magugu having been an LVMH Prize winner and Lukhango Mdingi being one of the finalists last year, it was proven that South African fashion is here to stay.
OkayAfrica talked to three rising South African designers who are making their mark in the industry: Onesimo Bam, SUHU ORIGINAL, and Dorcas Mutombo. We spoke about their rise on the scene, different points of views, their challenges as emerging designers, and their hopes for the future in fashion.
Onesimo Bam: The New Minimalist
Cape Town-based Onesimo Bam, founder and designer of Oneiam, is redefining what minimalism is with his large shapes, sharp lines and neutral tones.
Established in 2018, the Oneiam brand gained popularity during his debut at SA Menswear Week with his Japanese-inspired collection. “I studied textile but from the get go I knew I wanted to set my own label,” Bam said. “I am really into collaboration. I met Jason from Unknown Union who was also into collaboration and we just clicked. Spent a couple of months about producing this idea of collaborating with close friends. We created very conceptual but wearable kimonos which told each of the artist’s story. [We] shot great images of those with the help of Kassie Naidoo and Lampost, SA Menswear Week picked it up and the rest is what you see today.”
With an array of emerging designers who are carving their own path and are not interested in polished perfection, Bam is certainly following suit with his remarkable point of view on fashion.
“I am a minimalist and very simple person. I like routine and structure. So I guess the same practicality that I require in my day to day life is what influences my work,” Bam said. “A lot of the clothes I create I would consider uniform. I want to try and create clothes that you can wear anywhere. I like pushing the silhouette to create more room for pockets and other useful details.”
This is very evident in the spaces Bam looks for inspiration, considering his intellectual motifs which he merges in his work.
“I’m usually inspired in spaces that are usually not art or fashion related.” Bam said.
Like every other industry, the fashion industry was hit hard during the COVID-19 lockdown which left many brands struggling, some facing bankruptcy and even shutting down. Young designers were not excluded, as they became the most vulnerable during the crisis.
When asked about how the pandemic affected him, Bam said: “Business wise, I am struggling. COVID-19 came at a time where I was feeling super positive about the brand and when I really thought the brand would become more successful and actually ankle enough money to sustain the business.”
The designer sees a silver lining however. “I am working on multidisciplinary projects and a lot more work in film.” said Bam.
SUHU ORIGINAL: The Uniform Redefined
The coronavirus pandemic created a whirlwind of catastrophe in the creative space and designers had to find innovative ways to adapt to the new normal. The SUHU ORIGINAL brand, which was established in the middle of the pandemic, did just that.
Founded by brothers, Silo and Sethu Kondleka, the brand has gained popularity among the hip crowd in South Africa. Actor Sicelo Buthelezi and renowned DJ Oscar Mbo have worn the brand’s effortlessly relaxed aesthetic.
“We established the brand in the early moments of the pandemic when the country was on full lockdown. You couldn’t travel, couldn’t even go for a coffee date. We wanted to create the right pieces for when we got those moments back, garments you could rock in Durban or Bali,” the Kondleka brothers said in a statement.
A relaxed aesthetic taking influences from workwear, polished two-piece overalls, clinical T-shirts with excellent tailoring and finish.
“Initially, the whole idea was to make clothing for ourselves but we thought: ‘What if someone out there might be looking for a similar style and with our retail experience we thought we could actually sell it?’ This helped put a lot of pressure off because we weren’t following trends and pushing sales. The pandemic just gave us time to work out every detail and what we’d want the brand to represent,” they said.
The clean lines in their silhouettes show how the brand’s dedication to impeccable craftsmanship and the know-how of well- tailored pieces. Their latest collection, titled “Date Night”, illustrates that with their muted tones and simple shapes.
“With the Date Night Collection, we wanted to create one look for multiple occasions, date night with your significant other styled with loafers, or an epic night out at the club in sneakers. Most importantly we wanted to create a piece that stands out,” the duo said.
The future of minimalism or the new uniform? “The future for minimalism is infinite. More often people grow into it (as they get older, perhaps) rather than out of it.” said the brothers.
Starting a fashion brand in a pandemic comes with severe risks. But these designers have made it work.
Dorcas Mutombo: Fashion’s Future
Some people are born with a burning flame for the love of fashion, while some discover it as they grow along the years. With Dorcas Mutombo, it’s the former. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mutombo impressed the fashion press with her label, Emelia Dorcas, by creating a remarkable coat using 1066 handmade fabric flowers which positioned her as a young designer to watch.
“My love for fashion was embedded in me from birth when my parents decided to name me after Dorcas, who was a seamstress in the bible,” Mutombo said. “I never had to think or choose a career, it was always fashion from a young age.”
With her latest collection, Mutombo focuses on knitwear, pieces that will challenge her as a designer. She is also dedicating it to the men in her family.
“This collection was inspired by the men in my family. I wanted to celebrate them because they have done so much for me to be where I am today,” Mutombo said. “I went up to six generations and when I looked at their individual runs in the world, I wanted to celebrate them. I also realized that everything they did was successful because of the great women they had.”
The recurring thread seems to be visible in not just her inspirations from her family, but her Congolese heritage.
“I am a very nostalgic young woman and this plays in my designs. My love for my home country, our rich history, and cultures always inspire me to tell those stories and share them with the world,” Mutombo said. “In simpler words, its storytelling and my usage and love for color. And I am so grateful for it because it seems like God gave me an incredible eye when it comes to color matching and I love that gift.”