Meet South African Design Entrepreneur Laduma Mgxokolo, Who’s Putting African Fashion On The Map

Every business leader knows his or her success depends on a viable and sustainable market. That’s what the young Laduma Mgxokolo saw in front of him as a student working on a thesis project at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in his native Port Elizabeth, South Africa: a viable and sustainable market place based on a centuries-old tradition of South Africa’s Xhosa people.
“Xhosa men between the ages of 18 and 25 g through an initiation ritual into manhood,” he told me at LUXURY CONNECT AFRICA, a three-day trade exhibition created by Luxury Business Strategist Ms. Uche Pezard to showcase Africa’s finest luxury heritage brands, held at Le Bristol Paris in mid-January. “They are circumcised. It’s the transition into manhood, and as part of this transition they get rid of all their old clothes and their parents have to buy them a new wardrobe for their new life.” As this transition ceremony takes place every six months and as there are some 8-million Xhosas in South Africa… well, do the math.

Passion and Resources
Armed with a passion for textiles and knitwear dating back to his high school days, and benefitting from the teeming Port Elizabeth wool and mohair trade (70% of the world’s mohair used in clothing comes from South Africa and is shipped from Port Elizabeth), and a 10-thouand Euro seed money loan from his university, Laduma launched Maxhosa by Laduma in 2011 as a menswear line of knitwear, and now serves as its design and managing director.

To the Western eye, the range is reminiscent of Etro-meets-Missoni: bold colors, luxurious materials, well crafted and meticulously tailored. But in the case of Maxhosa, the colors and patterns, beading, and rich textures come from the cultural heritage of the Xhosa people. Within two years – by popular demand – he’d added women’s wear to the line.
A soft-spoken 32-year old, Laduma’s focus and ambition are well tempered with a passion for his métier, his country and the Xhosa traditions. He is keenly aware of his debt to those in South Africa who supported him – he paid off the Nelson Mandela University loan within two years. “ They had confidence in me,” he recalls.
That confidence was not ill founded. In 2010,while still a university student, Laduma won the South African national leg of the South African Society of Dyers and Colorists (SDC) Design Competition. That in turn, earned him a trip to the finals in London, where he won first prize internationally. His menswear competition entry, “The Colorful World of the Xhosa Culture,” was the basis of his first commercial collection, while his success was the foundation of a new program at his university. “They launched an incubator program to support me and my work,” he told me, “and today that has become the Nelson Mandela Art and Design Incubator to support additional promising artists and designers.”

Laduma’s Xhosa-inspired take (L) on the classic Aran fisherman’s sweater (pictured R), part of an exhibit on 100 years of iconic clothing pieces at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

Laduma’s own education continued in 2014 when he won a two-year WeTransfer Scholarship to study for a master’s degree in Material Futures at the Central St. Martins in London. That brought him into commercial contact with the European fashion scene: he won the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa prize, allowing him to to showcase his collections at the Palazzo Morando Show in Milan. The next year, Chivas Regal approached the fashion entrepreneur to create their 2016 limited edition 18-Year-Old packaging. Laduma created an unapologetically African Xhosa design: Gold XS adorning a vivid blue background. His re-interpretation of the iconic Aran fisherman’s sweater was part of an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year commemorating the 100 most influential fashion garments created in the last 100 years.

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