6 South African Designers To Fall In Love With

Photo by Katherine Lee Moolman.
To read about Laurel's move to South Africa and leaving behind her “perfect” NYC life, click here.

If you ask every person you know who has moved either to a new city or country as an adult what the most challenging part of the move was, I’m willing to bet that 90% of them would say it’s making friends. Beyond tedious logistical or administrative issues, it’s the absolute suckiest part of starting over.

Forget trying to date romantically — friend dating is way more awkward. That thing where you don’t want to come on too strong? That line is much fuzzier when there’s no element of sexual attraction. You can’t really walk up to someone you think you’d have friend chemistry with in a bar and be like, “You seem nice, want to come over and watch 14 episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, look at magazines, and order tacos?” So, in the spirit of friendship, and making it a little bit more okay to just put yourself out there and say, “Hey, I think you’re neat and cool, and I like you,” I have an idea:

Now that I've moved to South Africa, there are a bunch of local designers here that I’d like to symbolically have over for tacos, and I’m interested in finding out whom they admire. Cape Town is creatively one of the richest places I’ve ever been, and there’s a thriving fashion scene.

So, starting with Lukhanyo Mdingi (a guy I’ve stalked on Instagram practically since the second I landed in Cape Town), I’ve started a South African chain letter of fashion love. Read on to hear more about these supertalented folks, and the supertalented folks who they think are cool, and then I hope you’ll go out there and let someone know you like them.
1 of 6
Photo by Travys Owen.
Lukhanyo Mdingi

“Lukhanyo’s work is cleverly crafted, minimally executed, and oozes a clean designer aesthetic.” —Jenevieve Lyons

What inspires you, when it comes to design?
“I consider myself a minimalist designer. Not so much with regards to clean lines and muted tones but rather drawing inspiration from numerous things that one wouldn't necessarily consider ‘less is more.’ Lately, I've found myself interested in different fabric types and fabrications. I always want to add a sense of ‘feel’ when creating my pieces, with them having a sense of texture and body.”

What do you love about the South African fashion scene?
“It's got mad talent, the young generation of fashion designers is booming, and what even makes it more exciting is that we are all so different. I love that!”
2 of 6
Photo by Kent Andraesen.
Jenevieve Lyons

“Jenevieve effortlessly perfects the balance of conceptual aesthetics with wearable designs” —Lukhanyo Mdingi

What story are you trying to tell as a fashion designer?

“As a fashion designer, I aim to ‘depict’ visual parables throughout my clothing; referencing strong concepts taken from various fields of study and interpreting them within a fashion context, bringing across strong concepts and ideas in the form of innovative garments with a strong sense of sculpture and molding with an aesthetic of conceptual minimalism. Things that allow for inspiration are tangible and non-tangible unexpected somewhat ‘odd’ ‘things’ — such as sea sponges, textures seen in nature, fabric manipulation, illustration, and architecture, as well as Japanese culture.”
3 of 6
Photo: Courtesy of Keith Henning.
Adriaan Kuiters + Jody Paulsen

“I love that Keith started with a line of beautifully, locally made staples, and was able to transcend that and include Jody Paulsen, who is a contemporary African artist in his language. They’re able to push the boundaries and cultivate their own contemporary language.” —Katherine-Mary Pichulik

What are your inspiration references?
“We’re inspired by minimalism, the 1920s Bauhaus movement, Walter Gropius, Scandinavian design, clean minimalism, to-the-point design.”

Is there a specific person or type of person that you'd love to see in your clothes?
“Young urban professionals. We dress people for every aspect of their lives. We also feel very complimented when we see students buying our clothing, as it’s more of an investment for them.”

What would you like everyone outside of South Africa to know about the fashion scene?
“That there is an interesting new wave of new designers that are on the shift of something big. It’s going to be interesting to see where that goes and how they sustain themselves.”
4 of 6
Photo: Courtesy of Eleni Labrou.

“Eleni [Labrou, Akedo’s founder] is really exciting because she’s redefining the way people look at African design. Traditionally, people thought African design was defined by pattern, but she’s looking at the idea of the surface of the garment and starts to embellish with cutouts and fringing. She works with positive and negative space in a way that’s sculptural, in a traditionally African artistic way.” —Katherine-Mary Pichulik

Describe what Akedo looks like.

“My aesthetic is clean-cut and minimal but with an offbeat weirdness. I am generally inspired by everything around me: all genres of film, reading material, food, and even events.”

How does working in South Africa influence you?
“I absolutely love South Africa. I would say that the things I experience in my everyday life influence me. Things like people selling mielies from a burning bin in town are things that only happen in this country, and even though they often have a negative connotation, I choose to find the beauty out of those moments.”

What would you describe as the South African approach to fashion and personal style?
“Mixing. We are such a diverse nation, and that is definitely present in the way South Africans approach fashion.”
5 of 6
Photo: Courtesy of Tamara Chérie Dyson.
Tamara Chérie Dyson

“Tamara’s work is sophisticated and chic, and embodies qualities of luxury and minimalism, while still focusing on the finer details and strategically chosen fabric types.” —Lukhanyo Mdingi

What’s the Tamara look?

“My aesthetic is sophisticated, contemporary design expressed through refined, minimal lines, and impeccable cut, quality, and fit. We are focused on creating beautiful investment pieces that showcase a perfect balance between classic and modern design. The luxury womenswear brand offers the discerning woman garments of discreet indulgence with an understated, effortless style.”

How does being South African influence your label?
“I love being South African, and what our country lacks in resources, it makes up in incredible craftmanship. This is a huge focus of my brand — high-quality craftmanship and finishes. I believe in celebrating and supporting South African products, skills, and traditions wherever possible. I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work one-on-one with local manufacturers to create handmade luxurious fabrics, knits, and yarns to incorporate in my designs. I make use of local sustainable merino lambswool and kid mohair, offering luxury at its finest. I feel this authenticity and honesty shows through my designs, and customers truly appreciate it.”
6 of 6
Photo by Katherine Lee Moolman.

“For me, [Katherine-Mary] Pichulik embodies a new contemporary Africa, offering wearable pieces or jewelry, striking a great balance between creativity and commercial viability. Her innovativeness as a young designer and entrepreneur is truly inspiring.” —Tamara Chérie Dyson

What interests you about design?
“I’m really interested in the connection between ornamentation and sacred ceremony. Traditionally jewelry wasn’t just embellishment and superficial, but something that has a lot of meaning and value. I love to travel to places where jewelry is part of spiritual practices, like North Africa, West Africa, and Turkey. I source all my stones from a Gambian tradesman, and we get pieces that have been in circulation for 70 or 80 years that are really sacred and have been passed around for a long time. I also love that jewelry is something special to a woman — it’s steeped in lineages, and is worn so close to the skin. It’s very intimate.”

How do you feel that working in South Africa influences your work?
“On the material level, there’s the idea of “third-world countries,” and how their greatest attribute is innovation and reimagining materials. That’s at the core of why I use industrial materials…elevating them through design. There’s also this idea of ubuntu, or working together as a community is so important. My team is cross-continental African, and there’s a big feeling of working together, collaborating, and sharing ideas. You also can’t help but be inspired by a culture of ornamentation, especially beadwork, but we also come from a culture that’s incredibly ambidextrous and good with handiwork.”

What are some of the challenges of being a designer in Africa?
“One of our challenges is that because we’re coming from Africa, people have this idea they can haggle or barter with you. People in the outside world don’t understand reasonable price points for our work, and what needs to be understood is that these pieces are handcrafted and produced in a fair trade mentality, and they’re going to be at a certain price point. There’s this whole trajectory of Africa being unrefined and these assumptions don’t allow us to compete on global levels and get the same acknowledgment and same market value. What’s got to shift is a level of mutual respect. People are really interested now in African design, but instead of knocking it off it would be quite inspiring to use producers from within the continent.”