30 Jan 2024 ///

Fashion designer Robyn Agulhas on experimenting with trust through her brand, SinCHUI

I first spoke to Robyn Agulhas in 2021, having been introduced to her work through Lemkus. Robyn’s brand SinCHUI (pronounced ‘sin-chewy’) was only two years old; born out of her graduating collection at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology): an institution that arguably boasts one of the best fashion departments in the country. In our conversation back in 2021, Robyn was one of the first designers hopping onto a sartorial wave most commonly defined as ‘tech-utility’. A branch of streetwear with a scrupulous focus on construction and functionality, SinCHUI’s ‘tech-utility’ approach has grown from strength to strength – and Robyn has come to be one of the most important contemporary designers in South Africa. So much so that Robyn was recently awarded the SA Fashion Weeks Mr Price ‘Scouting Menswear’ competition. The prize, aside from its immense industry recognition, includes mentorship, cash and a collaborative collection between SinCHUI and Mr Price, launching in 2024. After four years of building SinCHUI, this recognition is hard-won and symbolises a kind of grit in Robyn that I hope many aspiring designers will attempt to embody. 

For someone who has overcome many doubts and a self-professed ‘late start as a designer,’ Robyn described the win, “I didn’t go with any expectation to win. My goal was to just showcase at SA Fashion Week because as a platform alone, they’re just incredible. It was a dream come true just to have SinCHUI as a runway show. Regarding the win, I’m really proud of myself – especially as a creative, it’s a win over my doubts and my fears. Going into the unknown and designing collections for a fashion week was an immense challenge and it proved to me that I really love what I do. I am getting more involved with loving the process.” This was the second collection that Robyn produced last year for a runway show, having shown for African Fashion Spaces in September. I’ve spoken before about the importance of seeing streetwear on the runway; it brings brands directly to an audience for whom tactically remains paramount. Asking Robyn how winning the award at SA Fashion Week felt, she says, “when I got back from SA Fashion Week, I had to jump straight into another project. I’m not sure I even had time to process it! I’m still processing it and when I got back, I needed to rest. Winning this award has shown me how much I’ve grown. I’ve been working on this brand since I graduated and I have taken every single opportunity that has come my way; so I look at this moment to affirm that pushing and not giving up really, really does pay off.”


Robyn created this collection in her own studio, something she had been working on for quite some time to have; a space of her own and home for SinCHUI to evolve, “a win for me is also just knowing that for the past for months, I have this space, I can pay the rent – I could buy a machine. I want to encourage younger brands to aim for those small milestones, because they make all the difference. Being able to build something from the ground up is a slow, steady process”

Robyn’s story forms part of a thread of synchronistic conversations that we have been having on CEC; namely, pursuing your creative vision, no matter what or especially, no matter when. Robyn says, “The last time we spoke, I had just started to focus fully on SinCHUI. I started in politics, then I worked in the fashion industry as a stylist; all throughout my twenties, I didn’t have any idea that I would become a designer or have my own brand. I was just trying to find my feet in fashion. I thought that because I couldn’t draw or sketch, that being a designer couldn’t be part of my journey. So, SinCHUI was born from my determination to overcome the obstacle of wanting to be a designer and the doubts I had in my mind about my ability to do so.” 

Success is a blend of talent and determination. In this world, original ideas exist in everyone’s minds; but whoever is able to integrate these ideas from the ether and anchor them into the world, are those that will see fruition in the work. Robyn describes her initial worry of going back to study fashion in her late twenties, and explains how her perspective has changed – “actually, graduating at 29 was really good for me. I knew who I was, I knew what I liked – that I was a streetwear designer. Sometimes things that happen later for you in life are exactly the way it’s meant to be; with that confidence of knowing, of having developed a point of view from life experience.”

SinCHUI’s winning collection last year at SA Fashion Week was a love-letter to her childhood; specifically, how it was informed by her father and his soccer lineage, arising out of Heideveld. Extremely well styled and constructed, the collection speaks to a current phenomenon (by designers like Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose etc) of women designer’s innovative approach to menswear. Robyn explains that, “the brief was from ‘sport to street’ and I knew instinctively that I would focus on soccer. Growing up, my dad played soccer in the community that he’s from and he ended up playing at a professional level, provincially. Back in the day, Coloured people had a league of their own. I grew up with soccer as a huge part of our lives and I grew up on the soccer field. I took the elements of the goal-keeper, the jersey – the warm-up tracksuit – I even created a formal suit that teams wear when arriving for matches. There was so much to reference from soccer along with my personal connection to it; seeing firsthand what an impact soccer has had in my family and broader community.” This distinct and personal point of view is precisely why Robyn finds herself in this moment. Robyn explains that in designing this collection, she had realised that her sartorial influences had always involved a sporting aesthetic – and with her mom having worked in the fashion industry, it was clear that blending sporting and fashion sensibilities could come naturally. Robyn says, “sport really encompasses a mental toughness that is so powerful. Although I grew up in Goodwood, my parents would take us back to Heideveld – to where they come from – so we always retained that connection to our family roots. We did this through soccer and I saw kids growing up who might have been affected by gangsterism and have the odds stacked against them, but when they came onto the soccer field; they could just be and find some kind of freedom. This collection is my love-letter to this part of my life and aspects of life across the Coloured community.” 

As a designer and creative, Robyn’s focus is to ‘tell exactly what I’ve lived’; this earnestness and authenticity is a precious addition to South Africa’s broader sartorial identity. With 2023 having been a whirlwind year, one only knows what 2024 will bring for SinCHUI; we wait and witness with bated breath.

Written by: Holly Beaton

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

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