Average reading time: 4 minutes.
The erudite words of South African Fashion Week CEO Lucilla Booysen of this year’s Scouting Menswear Competition winner, Durban-based 23-year-old B Tech fashion and textile designer Alexandra van Heerden, says it all, “The Vanklan Breezeblocks & Pawn Shops collection is innovative, contemporary, functional, versatile and above all, fun.” Alexandra’s construction is exemplary, her fabric choices—prints and colours—are excellent, culminating in a superior combination of style and proportion. She delivers a range that perfectly meets the competition brief “to transform textile waste into desirable, scalable and commercially viable collections that will inspire and motivate the South African consumer”. A deserving winner indeed! And we at ASA completely agree.
Over a virtual-smoothie, I chat to Alexandra van Heerden for a quick-unpick of the woman behind the clan, Vanklan to be more precise, the catchy brand name derived from an amalgamation of Alexandra’s surname Van Heerden and the word ‘klan’ meaning ‘family’.
What is the Vanklan design philosophy?
It’s an unconventional approach to sustainable fashion. The term sustainable fashion is bandied about too easily these days, with everyone jumping on the bandwagon, detracting from its true meaning. It’s imperative that we don’t stray from the true meaning of sustainability and a real circular ecosystem. Simply using pure cotton isn’t enough. It may be enormously challenging for designers but the end result is truly rewarding, especially when you can look at a garment and know that your creations are leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible.
Which designers inspire you and why?
Locally, Laduma Ngxokolo, designer and founder of Maxhosa Africa. Since attending a presentation he gave at my university in 2019, I’ve remained in complete awe and admiration of not only his exquisite work, which both tells a story and promotes sustainability but more so of his humility. From his humble roots in the Transkei to global recognition, Laduma has stayed true to himself and his culture. I’m also inspired by the iconic grande-dame of fashion, Vivienne Westwood, a true leader and example in a sustainable fashion. And of course, her daring attitude and approach, the uniqueness, eccentricity and absurdity of her designs!
Advice for aspiring designers?
Keep persevering. Never give up. As horribly clichéd as that may sound—it’s true. I have entered a number of competitions and haven’t made it through but picking yourself up and trying again already makes you a winner. Identifying your uniqueness and being true to yourself is also key to success. In such a saturated market it’s important to be different.”
What do you love the most about being a designer?
I love that it allows me to combine my two biggest passions – the environment and fashion.
What do you like wearing?
Shorts. I hate wearing jeans or long pants, I live in shorts even when it’s cold, although it’s never really that cold here in Durban. Sneakers are also go-to favourites, unless of course a heel is called for.
What item in your wardrobe can you not live without?
My dad’s grey Nike sweatshirt that he has had since I was born…I live in it.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a designer?
Towards the end of my Matric year whenever the question, “So what are you doing next year?” was raised, I felt uneasy. I’d reply, “I’m going to study teaching but after that I’m going to study fashion”. All I could think about was fashion, even though I’d never touched a sewing machine or even knew what a pattern was, it was all I could see myself doing.
I knew I was choosing to teach for all the wrong reasons. I was simply too afraid to go against the norm— all my friends were going to Stellenbosch and the University of Pretoria. It wasn’t until one day my mom said, “in order to be successful you have to do what makes you happy”, and although it’s cheesy it was the turning point for me. I enrolled at the Durban University of Technology and my journey with fashion and textile design began and I’ve never looked back.
What was the first garment you ever made?
Oh, cringe! A pair of elasticated shorts made from a terrible farmyard printed fabric. But I was hooked immediately—and have been ever since!
Where will we find you when you’re not designing?
I love being outdoors—my favourite activity is running, whether it’s road running or trail running. I also love the beach, it’s another one of my favourite pastimes.
Don’t miss the full SAFW Scouting Menswear x ASA Magazine feature.
Read more HERE.
Words | Neil Doveton @mrdoveveton
Editor | Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Production | ASA Digital Pty Ltd
Creative Director | Reynold Agge
Photographer | Migal Van As @migalvanas
Videographer | William Mulders @2fellasmedia
Models | Scott Fortune, Luyanda Mabozo, Josh Du Plessis, Michael Kwasdsteniet, Olivier Ntumba, Yakubu Oghenenyerhovwo
Stylist | HOD Carissa Bosman
Hair & Makeup | HOD The Makeup Touch Assistant Savina De Nobrega
Assistants | Wilke Hamman, Hein Badenhorst