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21 Feb 2023 ///

Chapter 13 | Essential South African womenswear brands for your wardrobe

In an age where consumption continues to peak beyond what could ever have been predicted, it can be really difficult to navigate the onslaught of sartorial choices presented to us everyday via adverts and algorithms. There are so many trends, styles and silhouettes via every post or story, and it can be really exhausting. Yet, I find that our local design market offers the perfect antidote to this dilemma – and I will continue to say a sentiment I live by as an ardent supporter of South African fashion; we are uniquely positioned as a young, emerging design market to be intrinsically sustainable. Many designers are making smaller-batch collections, and preserving local craft and tailoring practices; with this kind of key-trends being adopted elsewhere in Europe as a return to quality supply chains; many South African brands have never strayed from this, out of pure availability and necessity. I think this is worth celebrating, alongside the incredible array of brands who contribute to a beautifully-growing picture of South African design. 

In putting together our thirteenth chapter of Interlude, I was retrospecting on the nature of womenswear as a fundamental to fashion’s overall development. Historically, fashion is the one arena and industry where women have reigned; and for better or worse, we have been at the forefront of every designers or label’s mind. Menswear has become so much more diverse and interesting in recent years, which is incredible, but I wanted to return to looking at womenswear through a South African lens; and what better way to do so, than with nine local and  women-owned brands? The following labels, in their own way, design as women for women (and anyone along the gender spectrum) to embody the spirit of creativity and chicness – and I think each label hosts a variety of absolute essentials for your wardrobe. These are spaces that create investment pieces; and focus quality and intention that speak to our country’s innate sartorial consciousness. I hope you will consider them next time you find yourself needing to add to your archive – remembering that buying local, is supporting the dreams of South Africans. Right now, with everything going on in our country and planet, there are few better ways to stand in solidarity for a better, chicer world.

Fikile Sokhulu /// 

If you’re a long-time reader of Interlude, you’ll know that I adore the Durban University of Technology graduates. I don’t feel like Durbs always get their dues, so I’ll be whispering ‘DUT’ to anyone who will listen (or read). Fikile Sokhulu is one such graduate. As a finalist for the South African Fashion New Talent Search, Fikile is now a regular fixture on the scene, and has participated in international projects in Italy and China. Her design approach is rooted in feminine expressions and organic shapes, and Fikile is a growing mastere at fabric manipulation. Romantic ruffles, pleats and exaggerations don’t just happen – they’re an expression of painstaking and thoughtful technical ability. The label is precise and innovative – and I am reminded of Simone Rocha’s work, but entirely Fikile’s own. I think everyone should have a Fikile Sokhulu ruffled moment in their wardrobe.

Images courtesy of Fikile Sokhulu

Connade /// 

Connade is the lovechild of Shelley Mokoena – possibly one of the chicest women in the whole country. I have been fortunate enough to work with some of her pieces in a styling context; and they are more incredible than even Connade’s stunning campaigns can showcase. With unusual construction, Connade is a case study in the art of sculptural pattern making and execution; with piping being used to form incredible feats of height and structure. All this, in a garment? Incredible. Their SS23 collection, The Antecedent, is an ode to the journey of the self – with the campaign notes, readingThe collection creatively dissects the rediscovery of the designers’ timeline, inspired by the makeup of her childhood. Mokoena offers the wearer, spiritual keys of African numerology, and an overall profound grace in the investigation of the fallacies, fears, and misinterpretations that have created the narratives that have become her identity. The garments undress shadows of familiarity, roles, blind routine appropriateness and societal appropriation where we have traded the sight of the world, a transaction that left our true selves othered.” A Connade statement piece or three? Absolutely essential.

Images by Michael Oliver Love

Rethread /// 

Alexa Schempers is KILLING it. As founder and creative director of Rethread, the up-cycling orientated label continues to excel with their inventive and sustainable pieces locally, and made by women, serve part of a long-term, permanent collection. Alexa really said, sustainable has to be boring? Never. Piquing the interest of Lagos Fashion Week, Rethread participated last year in their Woven Threads Exhibition, focused on highlighting circular fashion brands on the continent. Then, there’s Alexa’s growing command of TikTok – in which her personable, deep love and affection for what she does is showcased to an audience of 21k + both locally and internationally. To finish it off, even though Rethread has only just got going, was this absolutely iconic moment when Julia Fox stumbled across Rethread.

Images from rethread.store

SELFI /// 

Celeste Arendse has been leading the sartorial charge in South Africa for nearly a decade. As an alumni of CPUT, Celeste was one of the first designers in the country to pivot to biodegradable and sustainable fabrications; and finding that fabrication is the surest way, alongside construction, to elevate her brand SELFI to the space she wanted it to be. Celeste has said that ‘she never wanted to make clothes that couldn’t return to the earth somehow’ – and in our conversation last year, SELFI’s vision for womenswear was explained by Celeste I needed to create something with my own hands. I trained for that, and learned a lot working after I graduated, but by 2012 I was looking to channel everything towards a vision I had for womenswear in South Africa. I wasn’t finding much of what I wanted to wear, or see my friends wearing. I think any creative or designer will tell you there is a certain frustration in seeing so much inspiration everywhere – and not being able to transform those referential moments into a body of work testament to that flow of creative energy from observing, internalising and then creating.” This push to create something of her own gave birth to SELFI – a continual and exceptional expression of womenswear, designed and made in Cape Town.

Images courtesy of selfi.co.za 

MUNKUS /// 

Thando Ntuli’s brand MUNKUS takes its name from her family nickname, ‘munkus’ – and the brand reflects this personal adoration emanating from her childhood in Soweto. As is written about Thando’s vision for South African Fashion Week, “As the creative director and owner of the brand, Thando uses the power of storytelling, through her clothing, to allow women to be their most colourful, comfortable, and loud self. Taking inspiration from the generational line of mothers in her life, she wants to raise the voice of the everyday woman through craftsmanship.” This blueprint for the brand’s outstanding success since inception in 2019 makes MUNKUS one to support, deeply. The brilliance of MUNKUS shines through in its multi-functional pieces; designed to be worn singularly or layered, as shown in the images below. Every piece designed by Thando is such that a vision for one’s wardrobe is the ability to style and re-use timeless, energetic garments over and over again in new ways – simply genius. Last year, Thando won the SAFW New Talent competition with her collection titled ‘Umama Wami’ (My Mother) – an homage to her very first fashion icon, her mama – “Using her mother as a metaphor she explores the feminine capacity to adopt a multitude of personas to remain the nurturing centre despite restrictions and challenges.” This, to me, is the power of fashion.

Newe /// 

Newe is an ode to linen – with designer Mikayla McClean as an ardent lover of 100%, and no less. Pieces like the beautiful waistcoats and tailored trouser sets and the perfect white shirt form part of the label’s core vision for luxury and simplicity as interdependent concepts. Campaigns by Newe feature the unisex nature of the garments on both men and women; making the brand a dynamic offering for anyone who wishes to be adorned in the lightness of Newe’s commitment to textiles. The brand is stocked by Lemkus – and the collection is available to view at The Exchange Building, right next to Mikayla’s partner John’s brand, Human By Nature. We love a powerful fashion couple.

Images by Eduan Prince 

SiSi /// 

SiSi is the story of best-friendship and style. Yasmin Furmie and Cynthia Allie believe so deeply in the power of the perfect shirt – and the innumerable ways it can be adapted – that Sisi was born, for them to explore this together. They are also best friends; which makes the whole brand so beautifully sincere. Recently, SiSi has been venturing into shirt-dresses – all keeping within their vision to play with fabric and tailoring, while still offering their made-to-order initial collections. Notably, they have no website – DMs to order – and there is something so personal about this direct experience. Personally, I believe you can never have too many shirts…least not SiSi’s.

Images courtesy of Sisi The Collection’s IG.

Beagle + Basset /// 

Beagle and Basset is a botanical dye-studio, primarily, with owner Genna Shrosbree’s obsession with her experimental results reaching across all manners of textiles – from homeware lines, right through to the brand’s non-seasonal clothing. Genna’s mantra, ‘from Earth to Earth’, summarises the fully-biodegradable nature of their products, dyed using foraged foliage and plants local to South Africa. I think Beagle + Basset’s shirt and shorts set is an absolutely critical duo for spring – summer – or literally, anytime. With beautiful collaborations like this one for Mungo, Genna stokes the flame of creation and textiles as an artistic, sacred practice.

Images courtesy of beagleandbasset.com

Amble ///

Although not technically clothing (debatable), I had to put Amble on this list. Locally made shoes? Yes, please – we need more local footwear, and founder, Amber Barker, is doing it so unbelievably well. Handmade in Cape Town using upcycled leather, Amble is making slip-on loafers and sandals like no other in the country; and the limited run of Nguni-hide slip-ons made their way into my shoe closet almost immediately as they dropped. Truly the most comfortable, delicious shoes; I cannot wait to see what Amber continues to do with this exceptionally clever brand. Eliminating waste, the shoes have a lead time of 2 – 3 weeks to be made once ordering; this kind of slow-consumption speaks to the innate craftsmanship within the brand’s ethos.

Images courtesy of ambleshoes.com
Written by: Holly Bell Beaton

For more news, visit the Connect Everything Collective homepage www.ceconline.co.za

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