Thando Ntuli of the label, Munkus
Thando Ntuli of the label, Munkus
Image: Supplied / Twyg

Blending intergenerational dressing and playful personal style, Munkus offers timeless eclectic designs. The luxury brand’s classic silhouettes, bold colours, and unique prints define its ready-to-wear layering pieces for diverse styling. 

Founded by Thando Ntuli in 2019 with her final year collection at Fedisa in Cape Town, Munkus has humble beginnings. From the title of the initial collection, Umtwana wase khaya (child of home), to its textured, elegant, and statement-making ensembles, it reflects a familial sincerity that is a visual delight and a sustainably considered choice. 

After graduating, Ntuli briefly worked as a junior children’s-wear buyer but found it creatively unfulfilling. Opting to invest in herself, she resigned to focus on her label. 

Munkus is inspired by the stylish women in Ntuli’s Soweto family and is centred on the concept of borrowing garments from loved ones of varying ages, sizes, and interests and making them your own. Ntuli admires the “cool balance” of sexiness and modesty observed in the confident and carefree attitude of 1980s and 1990s SA culture. Munkus celebrates this nostalgia in its contemporary everyday pieces.

“I wanted to have a brand that [closed the age gap] and focused on other elements,” said Ntuli. 

Munkus, a term of endearment from her family, evokes a sense of home and comfort that permeates each design. The aim was to encapsulate the confidence and freedom experienced in the home, the result being clothing that radiates boldness, strength, and empowerment. Ntuli emphasises that the pieces should inspire wearers to embody the purest form of confidence — “who you are [at] home” she said.

Weaving her personal interests and experiences into each Munkus creation — from a love of anime, travels to Japan to a passion for visual storytelling and documentaries — Ntuli’s brand embraces vulnerability and authenticity like a hug from a relative. 

Design from the Munkus Spring/Summer 2023 Isikhathi collection
Design from the Munkus Spring/Summer 2023 Isikhathi collection
Image: Supplied

Employs storytelling

Ntuli’s family recognised and understood her talent for fashion design despite paediatric medicine and engineering aspirations. With her family’s unwavering support, she was able to pursue what was meant for her.

Ntuli employs storytelling to strengthen her designs reflecting an intrinsic part of SA culture. And she is happy that “the world is finally seeing that”. Recalling the quality, structure and longevity of late 20th-century fashion, the brand’s foundation lies in concepts rather than specific products, influenced by a love for art, colour, and various creative mediums. 

Elaborating on her design process, she says, “My most popular collections usually start with the concept [followed by] the print, the clothing and then everything else trickles from that.” 

Munkus Spring/Summer 2022 Sisendleleni collection on the SA Fashion Week runway
Munkus Spring/Summer 2022 Sisendleleni collection on the SA Fashion Week runway
Image: SA Fashion Week

Having swept up multiple awards at the 2023 Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards, Munkus has garnered acclaim for its trans-seasonal designs and thoughtful production practices. Ntuli is also the 2022 winner of the SA Fashion Week / Mr Price New Talent Search, which champions sustainability.

While it has become a widely discussed issue, Ntuli says sustainability has always been part of African culture. For Munkus, sustainability is a considered practice evident in block printing, layering, fabric choice, and weighing the associated costs. With layering key to the brand, wearers can customise their looks to express their mood, comfort, and personal style, rather than adhering to runway styling. The goal is longevity, with garments created to last and passed on, like the pieces Ntuli once borrowed from her relatives. 

Stimulated by social media and daily life, Ntuli navigates influences consciously, distinguishing between genuine inspiration and passing trends. She finds creative stimulation by exploring a wide range of artistic expressions within diverse fields such as art, music, and film. She emphasises the importance of staying true to one’s artistic vision. “Stay in your own bubble [and] listen to your own opinion,” she said.

Munkus Spring/Summer 2022 Sisendleleni collection on the SA Fashion Week runway
Munkus Spring/Summer 2022 Sisendleleni collection on the SA Fashion Week runway
Image: SA Fashion Week

Celebrates resilience

Ntuli believes that when individuals pursue their unique vision, they often find that the pieces they initially considered unconventional are the ones most appreciated by their audience. “It keeps you being creative.” 

Her upcoming collection at SA Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 is a celebration of resilience and influence, inspired by those who are making their mark in society, reflecting each person’s personality and experience. The collection, which has a focus on plaid, hasn’t been titled yet.

While her heritage is imbued in the foundation of Munkus, Ntuli’s present preferences shape its modern essence. The designer says the brand’s future will be more experimental, balancing tradition with modernity inspired by Japanese fashion and focusing on locally sourced resources and craftsmanship.

Looking to more carefully considered concepts and a pivot to a documentative approach, Munkus will continue to incorporate elements of traditional SA silhouettes with modern design sensibilities, focusing on “what was great [then] and why it would be great to implement now”.

SA Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 happens from April 18 - 20 at Mall of Africa. 

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