Average read time: 9 minutes.
African luxury is unsurpassed in the world of craftsmanship and luxury — local brand MaXhosa Africa is living proof of that. Having had a global impact in the fashion space, the designer has broken many boundaries, from displaying his pieces in the fashion capitals Milan and New York to having superstar musician Alicia Keys wearing his pieces. His clothing was also featured in the iconic Eddie Murphy film, Coming 2 America, released in February 2021.
From humble beginnings to an empire
Hailing from the city of Gqeberha, Laduma Ngxokolo’s journey is one of resilience, determination, and pure unparalleled passion. Taught by his late mother, Lindelwa Ngxokolo, how to use a knitting machine, the designer’s great love for textiles grew strong. He recounts the day of going to town with his mother to purchase a TV, only to have his mother buy a knitting machine instead.
“My siblings and I laugh about it now, but when my mother and I came back I could see my siblings crying because we expected a TV, however, she taught us how to use the knitting machine instead,” says Ngxokolo.
He launched the brand in 2010 as MaXhosa by Laduma (later renamed as MaXhosa Africa), with the aim of creating clothes that would be suitable for Xhosa initiates (known as amakrwala in the isiXhosa language).
“As a person who has undergone the [initiation] process, I felt that I had to develop premium knitwear that celebrates traditional Xhosa aesthetics,” said the designer. Those textured, colourful mohair knitwear jerseys and cardigans catapulted Ngxokolo’s brand into a global success and traditional Xhosa patterns and colours onto the world stage.
Creating a fashion business is tough. However, staying in the fashion business is even tougher. Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen fashion brands come and go in a nano-second, yet Ngxokolo has gone against the grain and soared, remaining strong in his unshakeable design point of view.
“We have grown not only locally but globally as well. MaXhosa Africa has diversified into accessories and home decor and gradually opened two stores,” Ngxokolo affirms.
Being the first black person to open an African luxury store at the V&A Waterfront Mall in Cape Town, alongside international brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, Ngxokolo credits his determination for his success and his focus as what has kept him going for eleven years.
“It’s very important to us to be an aspirational brand. As an African child, it’s essential to show the young’uns that anything is possible. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. Don’t lose sight of your dreams, work at them every day,” Ngxokolo wisely advises.
Taking it to Tokyo
Debuting a collection for the first time in Tokyo, Japan, at Rakuten Fashion Week as part of the Face A-J (Fashion and Culture Exchange Africa & Japan), Ngxokolo collaborated with Tokyo Knit, a Japanese manufacturing firm that makes high-end knits. This season, he created an oasis of cultural exchange in the clothes with subdued colour, geometric patterns as well as Ngxokolo’s female heroes on the clothes. This created incredible textural pieces. Think of a jacket styled in the form of a kimono which paid homage to the Japanese culture.
“Instead of doing just a showcase, the idea was to build a business within Japan. This would be through pop-up stores around Tokyo, as well as ensuring that the Japanese market has access to our items,” explains Ngxokolo, who is clearly business-minded as well as creative. A great combination for success.
Speaking like a true diplomat, Ngxokolo explains the reasons behind his collection and aligning with Tokyo Knit. “Both cultures have passed on storytelling from one generation to the next. The stories that we found in our research led us to discover myths that have a sense of moral value when told. The Japanese have warrior stories of battles, similar to most cultures in South Africa,” he says. “The Samurai, for instance, have traditional regalia that differs between ranks, tribes and cultures. In our country, the same thing exists within the many sub-tribes and their traditional garments.”
Read more about the collection here.
The power of collaboration
The Pandemic continues to be challenging for creatives to generate profit from their talents. The notion of collaboration can sometimes be overlooked by designers, but Ngxokolo, always thinking out-of-the-box, rolled up his sleeves in the middle of dire times and collaborated with renowned artist and friend, Nelson Makamo. Together they created a one-of-a-kind tapestry as an effort to help SMEs affected by COVID-19.
See the tapestry here. The artwork was auctioned and fetched a whopping R670 000.
When asked about the importance of collaboration, the designer simply says “I believe in celebrating excellence and creating something impactful. I believe that working with fellow visionaries for the greater good is a fundamental foundation for making a difference.”
Leaving a legacy
Ngxokolo’s will to push the African design agenda and culture forward is unsurpassed by any other local designer. As his siblings work in the company, this creates some kind of family dynasty. “I am fortunate that I get to share this with my siblings and that they have the same vision and aspirations for our business,” says Ngxokolo. But actually, he considers everyone who works at MaXhosa Africa as family.
With Africa being the next financial frontier, the world is starting to sit up to take notice of the immense talent from our shores. Ngxokolo is a pioneer in laying a legacy, not only for himself and his own brand but for every child with big dreams.
And, what’s next for Africa’s fashion legend? “Just wait and see!” he says enigmatically, a glint in his eye.
Shop MaXhosa Africa here: shop.maxhosa.africa