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Emmy Kasbit, Rich Mnisi, and Sindiso Khumalo delve into history and tradition in SS‘21 collections fit for the present and future.

By Innocent Ndlovu

Sept 28, 2020

Africa’s fashion industry has recently been in the global spotlight for its brilliant new school of designers. In 2019, South African designer Thebe Magugu became the first African to ever win the LVMH Prize. Kenneth Ize from Nigeria has wowed the likes of Anna Wintour with his pieces made from the vibrant Yoruba heritage material Aso Oke. That coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement, the movie Black Panther, calls for diversity within the industry, and celebrities like Beyoncé and Naomi Campbell continuously supporting African labels like Kenneth Ize and Tongoro, has sparked an additional interest in fashion talent from the continent and contributed to its growing impact on the global market.

This season, three emerging African labels with a distinctive approach to design joined the likes of Missoni, Prada, Versace and Moschino to virtually showcase their SS‘21 collections at Milan Fashion Week. (With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, most of the week’s events are hosted virtually with a small number of intimate in-person presentations.) South African designer Sindiso Khumalo, one of eight 2020 LVMH Prize finalists, who’s shown in Milan from as far back as 2017 through the Fashion Hub Initiative joins the official schedule for the first time at the invitation of CNMI, the organizers of Milan Fashion Week. Joint winners of Vogue Talents’ Scouting for Africa 2020 Initiative hosted by Vogue Italia, Emmy Kasbit (Nigeria), and Rich Mnisi (South Africa) presented their designs by way of expertly produced videos via the newly launched Vogue Talents platform alongside a diverse pool of creatives from around the world.  

Emmy Kasbit

Emmanuel Okoro, founder and creative director of Nigeria-based label Emmy Kasbit, has gone from making clothes as a hobby to winning the Lagos Fashion Week Fashion Focus Program for emerging designers in 2018. This year, the brand is one of two winners of the Scouting for Africa Prize, an initiative by Vogue Talents and Africa Fashion Foundation that offers educational and tutoring support to African designers.

During the lockdown, Okoro pondered the idea of a joyful collection. “It has to do with hope, perseverance, and love”, the designer told Industrie Africa of his SS‘21 offering back in August. Presented through a fashion film and a physical presentation in collaboration with The Lotte boutique in Accra, Ghana, which was live-streamed on Instagram, the collection, named Unity Redefined, consists of pieces that highlight precise tailoring with refreshing twists. The film opens with wide-shot of a pair of models in matching cream meringue and blue suits made from the brand’s signature fabric, Akwete. The duo are seen swaying gracefully to the song African Moves by Steve Henrich against a backdrop of decaying sanguine brick and verdant bushes. Close-up shots reveal striking sartorial details like double-layered lapels, side slits on pants’ outer seams, and single-button embellishments on the hems of pants.   

This season's idea, as the designer revealed, is refashioned from some of the label's previous collections. “... It has been a sheer gift being able to redefine pieces from the past in a new and unique way,” Okoro said in a statement. Unlike past seasons, his approach is pared-back and slightly casual: his use of color is more conservative than we are accustomed to seeing from the brand; looks are stripped down to function for workwear, everyday dressing, and lounging; formal pants are detailed with side-buttons for a leisurely effect, while a baby blue cropped jacket is worn with asymmetrical pants. Okoro’s take-home lesson from our current pandemic is the need for unity and perseverance, two words that motivated his design choices for this collection, and this lesson is emblazoned as motif on shirts, jackets, and fringed skirts in the form of the Nsibidi symbol for unity, Nsibidi being the ancient writing system of Eastern Nigeria. Unity also seems to be portrayed by the creative choices of the film itself: the video’s two protagonists are often pictured in identical his and her looks that came in various styles like suits, pants, and tops. Through this presentation, Okoro reimagines, in his own words, “the new world of fashion.”  

Watch the show here.

Photo: Emmy Kasbit SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Emmy Kasbit

Photo: Emmy Kasbit SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Emmy Kasbit

Photo: Emmy Kasbit SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Emmy Kasbit

Rich Mnisi

Rich Mnisi has been making waves as a talent to watch since graduating with a BA in Fashion Design from the renowned LISOF Fashion Design Academy in Johannesburg six years ago. The designer has built his brand on cheeky, gender-defying clothes that appeal to the masses. Now favored by the likes of Beyoncé, the award-winning brand has also become a go-to for local South African celebrities such as Somizi Mhlongo and Bonang Matheba, influencer Sarah Langa, and industry insiders like photographer Trevor Stuurman. As a recipient of this year's Vogue Talents Scouting for Africa initiative, alongside Emmy Kasbit, Mnisi showcased an energetic collection fuelled by dynamic colors and patterns. The designer thrives on the “more is better” mantra.

In his SS‘21 collection titled Hiya Kaya, which means “going home” in Xitsonga, one of the eleven official languages of South Africa spoken by the VaTsonga ethnic group, Mnisi’s eponymous label took inspiration from his mother and the VaTsonga culture. His digital presentation showcases not only the beauty of his clothes but also that of the landscape of his country of origin. The film was shot in three locations across South Africa: rural Limpopo, picturesuqe Eastern Cape, and Western Cape, celebrating the designer’s heritage with animated patterns and clashing prints, an aesthetic with which Mnisi has become synonymous. Set against ocean views, cliffs, river banks, and rural South Africa, the film is both a spectacle and reality, with a cast of models walking on soil (in some cases with bare feet) catwalk style, to an unreleased Gqom track by DJ Lag and followed by Sho Madjozi’s hit song “Kona”. A combination of low angle and overhead shots of women dancing under a tree, a male model pulling a wire toy car and an old woman weaving, allude to the designer's upbringing and love for his heritage.

Mnisi sourced cotton from Zimbabwe, a neighboring country, and wool from Port Elizabeth, a coastal city in South Africa. His witty take on pop culture results in modern tailored garments in close-fitting cuts to accentuate both the male and female form. Bold details, from bright stripes and geometric shapes, appeared throughout, on multi-patterned pants and printed jackets. With Rich Mnisi, the show goes on no matter what. The designer turned the restraints of lockdown measures due to Covid-19 into a meaningful experience. “... lockdown afforded me the opportunity to take pause and dedicate time to a deep-dive exploration of my heritage, and to produce this heartfelt love letter to the VaTsonga people. The collection pays homage to my heritage, while specifically celebrating its women and the powerful role they have played throughout history and [now],” the designer explained to Industrie Africa.

The brand’s logo and a statement reading ‘Protect Our Mothers’, a direct reference to this season’s inspiration, was splashed across a garment sleeve. Talking about sleeves, Mnisi does love a good poofy one. They appeared in a silky summer jacket, alongside the designer’s version of the xibelani, a traditional skirt worn by Tsonga women in South Africa. As for next summer's accessory, it's an oversized crochet bag in black or white. Rich Mnisi delivered an engaging presentation that transported the viewer to the designer's world. Now these clothes might not be practical for the countryside but they will definitely resonate with the brand's contemporary audience and anyone really with a flamboyant taste.

Watch the show here.

Photo: Rich Mnisi SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Rich Mnisi

Photo: Rich Mnisi SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Rich Mnisi

Photo: Rich Mnisi SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Rich Mnisi

Sindiso Khumalo

Sindiso Khumalo’s brand is centered around powerful women in history that have both empowered and inspired her. For SS‘21, the 2020 LVMH Prize finalist and Central Saint Martins graduate was influenced by Harriet Tubman, the ex-enslaved African-American and abolitionist who led a reported seventy-plus people to freedom via the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Khumalo named the collection Minty which was Tubman's moniker. Her show was filmed in the lush farms of a small town called Philadelphia, outside of Cape Town and features an isolated model who appears lost or on a journey, making her way through massive farmlands and grazing fields, a nod to both Tubman and the times we live in now with the Covid-19 pandemic. The instrumental soundtrack creates a sense of sparseness that mirrors the wide open spaces of the visuals, and also reflects the designers minimalist aesthetic. A contemplative state of emotion carries through the film until the very end when this figure is seen glaring emotionless into the camera lens as it zooms out to show a tribute statement to Harriet Tubman.

The designer told Industrie Africa, “Violence against black women has been in existence since Harriet Tubman's time and still exists today with Uyinene Mrwetyana in South Africa, Breonna Taylor in America, and the young school girls from Nigeria who were stolen by Boko Haram. These events are all linked, and the violence happens across borders. What I try to do with my collections is to pay homage to women like Harriet Tubman and also give visibility to this issue.” Her story translated into subdued pieces juxtaposed against more girly and cheerful above-the-knee dresses perfect for summer. These were crafted from hand-printed silk taffeta and covered in illustrations of cotton plants and the Philadelphia fleabane wildflower

Khumalo is fascinated by 20th century dressing forms and portraiture, and this time she played around with chelsea, puritan and flat-style collars, each one adding a new personality to each dress. An Edwardian style, black, floor-sweeping gown reminiscent of Tubman’s attire is perhaps the most powerful hint at the homage to the historic figure. In another instance, Tubman’s name alongside another one of the designers muses, Charlotte Maxeke—the first Black South African woman to graduate with a college degree in 1903—is displayed above pockets of handwoven blue cotton suits made in Burkina Faso, while hand crochet pockets, in partnership with a Cape Town-based NGO that supports women out of exploitative sex work with stable employment, emerge on a pinstripe jacket.

As an advocate for sustainability, and an Ethical Fashion Initiative collaborator, Khumalo’s message on dress forms has never been more lucid—her brand is firmly based on the essentials and that’s clearly not about to change. 

Watch the show here

Photo: Sindiso Khumalo SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

Photo: Sindiso Khumalo SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

Photo: Sindiso Khumalo SS‘21 at MFW. Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo