A typical rags-to-riches story often involves an individual who works long and hard, usually with help from a Good Samaritan, to elevate themselves from humble beginnings to great heights. Though similar in many aspects, Mzukisi Mbane’s story is not a typical rags-to-riches story; it is a tale of success obtained through sheer hard work, determination and amazing talent.
Mzukisi is the force behind one of South Africa’s esteemed luxury fashion brands, Imprint ZA. The brand is known for its distinct aesthetic; a blend of bold prints and androgynous silhouettes deeply-rooted in the African identity. With an international footprint, a star-studded clientele and nearing ten years of existence, Imprint ZA sits amongst the top tier industry role-players. It’s refreshing to learn that the man driving the success of the brand is a 30-year-old self-taught designer hailing from Khayelitsha – an area notorious for numerous social ills that cripple the progress of its young inhabitants.
I am very pleased for an opportunity to speak to Mzukisi but after a week of trying to pin him down, I started to worry that it might not be possible. Between working on a new collection, spending hours on set for a photoshoot, looking for new premises for Imprint ZA and getting ready for an auction, he hardly has time. Yet, I finally managed to catch up with him on a Sunday morning. “This has been a very hectic week for me, but I am not complaining at all because things were a bit stagnant for a while thanks to COVID-19,” he says as he tries to find a perfect spot to position his laptop for our Zoom interview.
The COVID-19 lockdown presented a myriad of challenges for many businesses -Mzukisi and his company were no exception. Shortly before the country went into a hard lockdown, he had successfully launched his flagship store in Johannesburg. Just when it was starting to gain momentum, he had to close the doors, leading to a financial strain. However, he admits that it has not been all doom and gloom. “I had to quickly think of ways to survive, so I moved all my retail activities online. Some notable fashion online platforms such as Africa Rise, House of Nala and AFI Boutique came on board and it was back to business as usual!” he adds.
Leave a mark
Staying true to its mantra, ‘Leave a mark,’ Imprint ZA has been steadily creating a noteworthy impression in the South African high-end fashion space since its inception in 2011. In addition to showcasing at local fashion weeks, the brand has sent looks down international runways such as Arise Fashion Week as well as in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco and the USA. Some of South Africa’s most recognisable names including Zozibini Tunzi (Read our interview with her here), Busiswa, Somizi Mhlongo, Pearl Thusi as well as international superstars like Jidenna and others have donned Imprint ZA’s designs. This global exposure is surely why Imprint ZA’s clients stretch all over the world.
Mzukisi established Imprint ZA as a streetwear brand from his mother’s house in Khayelitsha under the name ‘Swagger Diaries’. Even as a streetwear designer, his use of texture, colours and prints to create show-stopping statement pieces set him apart from the rest. He credits that for the smooth transition when he decided to transform his brand from streetwear to luxury barely a year later since starting it.
“When I started my brand I went around saying it is a lifestyle brand without a clear understanding of what a lifestyle brand is. However, as I grew in the industry I soon realised that I was actually running a streetwear brand and I felt that it was limiting. Also, people expect black designers from townships to be streetwear brands. I didn’t want to fit that mold so Imprint ZA was born.”
According to Mzukisi, strategic collaborations with various brands were paramount in the process of cementing Imprint ZA’s rightful position in the high-end fashion world. That is evident in the partnerships that the brand has formed, from being a fashion partner to the Sun Met and Veuve Clicquot Polo to dressing the Miss South Africa pageant contestants.
A recent collaboration with Glenfiddich saw a collision of two worlds – fashion and whisky, causing an explosion of opulence and colour. Deriving inspiration from Grande Couronne, Glenfiddich’s 26-year-old single malt whisky, Imprint ZA used the Scottish whisky’s corporate colours to create a vibrant and unique textile print. The result was a mini collection of luxurious sky blue and gold afro-futuristic garments – an authentic representation of the brand’s aesthetic.
“The most exciting thing about the Glenfiddich collaboration was that I was tasked to design and develop a unique print! In 2015 I started designing my own prints for my collections and it’s always a very satisfying process. So I had a lot of fun with this task and the end product was well-received,” says Mzukisi.
Concluding our chat, I ask him what is in store for Imprint ZA’s future. “The natural progression of the brand definitely calls for an expansion. I am ready to explore different elements of the lifestyle space so Imprint ZA Home and Imprint ZA Kids are definitely on the cards,” he shares.