Meet the Designer Exploring Her African Heritage Through Sustainable Fashion

Michael Driver / © Culture Trip
Photo of Josephine Platt
Global Travel Writer26 February 2020

Everything begins with an idea. For Cape Town-based designer Sindiso Khumalo, it was to translate her African heritage through consciously created garments.

Designer Sindiso Khumalo trained in London before moving back to Cape Town | Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

Though she studied architecture at the University of Cape Town, it was actually a love for craft, colour and textiles that led Khumalo down the path of fashion design. She honed her skills halfway around the world at London’s Central Saint Martins, while her South African KwaZulu-Natal roots were central to informing the narrative that shapes and drives her womenswear line today.

In the early days of her design career, many of Khumalo’s prints were an homage to the coastal province where she grew up; graphic flowers and hilly landscapes are recurring motifs. “I find a real anchoring when I am in KwaZulu-Natal and a sense of those who have come before me,” explains Khumalo. “It is, in many respects, the land of my ancestors.”

Screen-printing is a technique Sindiso Khumalo has used since the inception of her label | Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

As it is with any fashion house, each collection takes on a slightly different story, but they are all bound together by the glue of a brand’s DNA. For Khumalo, this common thread is a continual experimentation with bold colour pairings through screen-printing in her Cape Town studio. “I love working from Cape Town. It’s a beautiful city, and it’s surrounded by nature, which makes me feel the most inspired,” she adds.

For her latest collection, the designer drew the scenery of a traditional Zulu homestead at the turn of the 20th century. “I’m nostalgic,” says Khumalo. “I always like to hark back to the past and tell historical stories through a garment.” Meanwhile, she also explored African diaspora and the links that can be drawn between Africans and the African diaspora to emphasise similarities rather than differences. The designer went about this exploration through studying old portraits of African Americans and Africans at the turn of the century, which were “very similar images with very similar expressions”, and communicating her interpretation of these.

A love of colour runs through Khumalo’s work | Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

When it comes to bringing these ideas into reality and realising her garments, a sustainable approach is integral to Khumalo’s ethos. The designer works with a materials waste agency to redevelop her textiles through leftover fabrics. And, where possible, she works with hemp, Tencel, linen and organic materials like cotton, as she’s acutely aware that the landfill is the ultimate place of rest for clothing. “Everything I do is about a sense of urgency: if we don’t act now, what will we leave for our children’s children? Our rivers and oceans are flooded with plastic,” Khumalo stresses. “It would be my dream that plastic be abolished, unless it was really necessary, like in hospitals, for example. I am trying to champion a plastic-free lifestyle in my work and in my life.”

And, how about the Sindiso Khumalo woman? “I want her to feel brave and confident,” says Khumalo. “Someone who isn’t afraid of the strength of their femininity.”

Where possible, the designer works with organic materials | Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

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