How This Designer Brings Lesotho's Basotho Blankets to World Stage

Tradition meets fashion in Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana's work
Tradition meets fashion in Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana's work | © natalie_field_photography
Photo of Gill Lange
15 October 2018

South African designer Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana is taking her Basotho heritage into the modern age with a range of high-end clothing paying homage to the iconic Lesotho blanket. The transformation from tradition to meaningful fashion has breathed new life into this culturally significant attire that overflows with illuminating narrative.

Weaving a story through time

Lesotho’s heritage blankets distinguish the Basotho nation from others by the way in which they are worn in everyday life. Each unique design has deep tribal and historical significance and, over the years, the blankets have become an integral part of Basotho culture.

Traditionally woven from wool, each detailed blanket design represents significant Basotho life events, ranging from marriage and childbirth to the coronation of kings. Using symbols, bold colours and characteristic vertical pinstripes representing growth, the designs have been developed over many years with the blessing of the Lesotho royal family.

Contemporary Basotho style | © natalie_field_photography

Basotho heritage meets the West

Since launching her label in 2009, Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana has transported Lesotho’s tribal blankets from deep within the Maluti Mountains onto the world’s stage with her Kobo Ea Bohali ‘Blankets of Prestige’ collection.

Makhetha-Kwinana claims the traditional blankets are the perfect textile from which to create garments that showcase her culture and heritage in a Western-dominated fashion industry, and they have appeared on the catwalks of Vancouver Fashion Week in Canada.

Elegant Basotho coat | © natalie_field_photography

She has also recently begun creating her own Basotho-inspired prints, grounded in her personal experiences of new cultures. She believes that these will ultimately begin shaping a new heritage for current and future generations.

“My brand has always been focussed on acknowledging one’s own heritage, culture and growth. As we grow and progress our stories change and develop. My Basotho-inspired prints will incorporate these new stories,” she says.

Basotho blanket coats | © natalie_field_photography

A seamless blend of cultures

Embracing the influence other cultures have on her life is nothing new for the designer, who lived all over South Africa as a child. Her scholarly parents exposed her to the tastes and traditions of India, while her Xhosa husband shares his rich cultural upbringing with their son.

Basotho blanket coats | © natalie_field_photography

“One can’t deny the impact and influence other cultures have on our lives. The new blanket designs we are working on play on the idea of Basotho culture interacting with other cultures and producing new histories, where both a mother’s and father’s culture can be honoured, and where we can embrace the influence others have had on our upbringing.”

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