Lukhanyo Mdingi (LM): We recently did Paris and I had no idea you were going to be there… how was it for you?
Sindiso Khumalo (SK): It was great. We launched the Vans Vault collaboration, which you saw, and it was an amazing experience. It was a really good four days. There was great feedback on the collection.
LM: You were my ultimate fairy godmother on that trip. Thank you so much for helping me out with your card, because I lost my wallet as soon as I arrived. Aside from that little speed bump, Paris was good. I ended up getting quite sick, so I couldn’t really enjoy it the way that I wanted to. The whole reason for going in the first place was a presentation that was taking place with the support of the Ethical Fashion Initiative. We’ve been part of them for going on three years now. What they wanted to do was to showcase African designers to the larger fashion market. We are expanding it to show how craft can live within contemporary design.There’s always such a weird misconception about craft and how there’s not enough refinement to it. The idea is to really shift that paradigm.
SK: Congratulations on your production, it looks exquisite. You’ve been talking the wool story for a long time now — tell me more about the craft.
LM: In the beginning, it was all about creating beautiful clothes but then, as I progressed as a designer, I realised that it’s a process that’s quite collaborative. Our first introduction to that was by collaborating with textile designer Stephanie Bentum. Her company, Krafthaus, employs artisans who focus on textile development through felting. That led me to truly understanding the taproot of certain fibres — merino wool and mohair. So, [it became about] tapping into that, tapping into a fibre that penetrates an industry in such an incredible way, and the livelihoods and craft of those within that industry. It was this interwoven sensibility of honesty and sincerity that is now part of the cosmology of our brand. I love being in that collaborative space, I love learning from individuals who are so talented within their fields and seeing how they can add to the design.
SK: I want to know more about that knitted halterneck dress from last season [Coutts collection]. That was a beautiful full-circle moment.
LK: It expands to how community works and how sincere design can be. That dress — and the whole collection — was inspired by Nicholas Coutts [the SA fashion designer, who died in 2019]. Making a body of work that was dedicated to Nick was also trying to get an idea as to what Nick had been working on before his passing. He had been involved with an incredible community based in Khayelitsha called Philani [the Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Fund]. They predominantly focus on women’s maternal health, but they have a subdivision that’s a workshop for printmaking and weaving, and Nick had been working with these mothers. I really wanted to see how we could expand on that. So, we took some of the tapestries that Nick had designed with these women and digitised them. We put that into knitwear and from that we created those dresses. The Coutts collection is one of the most sentimental things that I’ve ever created.
SK: I cried when I first saw it. A beautiful homage to them, to the craft.
LM: I also want to know more about the new collection that you’ve been working on. How do you approach this new body of work, how have you expanded upon previous bodies of work? So much of what you do is based on craft, but there’s also a celebration of womanhood.
SK: Essentially, it was inspired by iconic Black women in the 1970s, and I looked at everybody from Miriam Makeba to Diana Ross. We look at 1970s fashion and we think it comes from a purely Western or American ideology, and I just wanted to pull all of that out. One of the things I’m beginning to learn as a designer is having my core silhouettes, my core looks, but then also still saying, “You know what, I’m growing.” I’ve now launched into a bit of tailoring, expanded into pleating.
I just want to bring some joy. It’s just been such a horrendous two years, I wanted to go bright, bold, joyful, happy. Especially now. We were in Paris when the whole Ukraine situation kicked off, so much that’s going on in the world is just so depressing. Clothing has that transformative thing where it can make you feel better. I said to Sarah Andelman, the curator of the Vans Vault collaboration, “You know, it feels very strange to post about trainers when there’s a war happening.” Then we met Anna October, the Ukrainian designer, and she said, “Life should carry on, you should still do the work, but also present to people what’s going on. You can do both.” As artists, part of our responsibility is to bring joy.
LM: I totally agree with you. As artists, and as entrepreneurs, especially moving in a contemporary world, our job is to create work that also informs the times we’re living in. We’ve decided to approach it by working with marginalised groups and communities that want the work, but also need the work. I think that’s another vehicle for bringing the change that we want to see — creating things that are beautiful but that also have a sense of purpose. What was your approach when you first started your business, compared to right now?
SK: I’ve always worked with NGOs. I wanted to try to tap into the crafts happening at home. When I was living in London, it was a way of bringing the essence of my home to the UK, building a print brand parallel to building a craft-focused brand. People ask, “How did you get from where you were to here?” And a lot of it is just working through each collection and understanding for yourself, “Who am I through the collection? What are we trying to say?” Trusting in the process is crucial. You’ve always been interested in the craft and the making.
LM: You want to create items that another person will feel good in, and that’s something that we’re still exploring. Because we want to create items that people feel good wearing. I want them to put LM on and be like, “Man, this is delicious, and I feel good in it.” That’s the quest.
SK: In your seven-year career, what have been the biggest challenges for you, as both an entrepreneur and a designer?
LM: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained more confidence in my role as both. But there were never really any particular idols that I could look up to. So, there’s always been this sense of, “I don’t necessarily belong within the space that I’m in now,” because I never saw young contemporary designers when I was five, or 13, or even 18. So, there’s sometimes a level of imposter syndrome. That has been the most consistent challenge. What do you see for the future of Sindi?
SK: I find it quite challenging to be on the rise when I’ve got two young children. I’ve had to create my own boundaries — I have two phones now, and I switch off my work phone to create definitions of weekends and stuff. But I can’t imagine not doing this. I’m just so joyful that I can come to my studio every day and do what I love. As a brand, we just want to continue on our journey of doing a lot of collaborations. And also doing meaningful collections that have social activism behind them. If I can create a ripple of change, then that keeps me going.
• Lukhanyo Mdingiis the joint winner of the 2021 LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize and was invited to Paris Fashion Week this year, where he debuted his Bodyland Autumn/Winter 2022 collection
• Sindiso Khumalo is a sustainable textile designer who launched her eponymous brand in 2014, has showcased at Milan Fashion Week, and is a 2020 LVMH Prize finalist
• From the April edition of Wanted, 2022.