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Meet the six finalists up for this season's locally coveted prize.

By Lindsay Samson

Apr 1, 2021

South African Fashion Week is one of the most anticipated events on the local fashion calendar, as is SAFW’s New Talent Search which was established in 1998. It is one of the most coveted honors for emerging talent and boasts a notable list of past winners who have gone on to achieve considerable recognition, including major names like David Tlale, MmusoMaxwell, and Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee.

This year’s finalists are each poised for their own success, with the competition’s winner set to receive marketing opportunities and business support valued at 45,500 ZAR (about 3000 USD). Representing a new generation of South African fashion design, they hail from all across the country, take sustainable, slow approaches to their design work, and bring a diverse range of perspectives, skills, and talents to a growing local industry. With the winner scheduled to be announced on April 29, we invite you to discover this year’s stellar lineup.

1.
Artho Eksteen

Based in Cape Town, designer Artho Eksteen’s eponymous brand produces timeless, artisanal pieces, the ethereal spirit, minimalist color palette, and elegant silhouettes of which converge to create collections that are soft and sophisticated. Drawing inspiration from aspects of both fine art and fashion, Eksteen takes what he calls an "organic, unrestricted approach to design", allowing his pieces to evolve or change throughout the creative process. “My aesthetic sensibilities could be described as off-beat, colorful, maximalist and artisanal,” Eksteen—who previously worked as an assistant to South African milliner Crystal Birch—tells Industrie Africa. “All of my garments are designed with longevity in mind whilst remaining playful and creative.” Produced with an emphasis on slow fashion, Eksteen seeks out production houses and fabric mills that take ethical production and fabric sourcing methods into consideration, which, according to the designer, also “always [yields] interesting, experimental results.”

2.
Michael Ludwig Studio

A multi-disciplinary brand that focuses on both the aesthetic and functionality of fashion, Cape Town’s Michael Ludwig Studio, founded by Michael Hittinger, dismisses  the idea of binary gender and is instead rooted in an ethos of fluidity and practicality. Described by its designer as “clean, considered, and contemporary”, Hittinger’s refined aesthetic is heavily influenced by asymmetry and contrasting ideas— specifically those of masculinity and femininity—and freely plays with proportion, color, and silhouette within his design approach. “I always start with finding inspiration in the form of a concept—for example gender studies—and from there I begin to think of what my customer would want,” Hittinger explained of his process, which also involves catering for as many different body types as possible. “My new collection has a lot of spacious garments and one-size-fits-all to accommodate everyone.”

3.
Sipho Mbuto

A former semi-finalist for GQ and South African Fashion Week’s Mini Scouting Menswear Competition in 2018 and the winner of the BET Made in Africa Competition that same year, designer Sipho Mbuto returns to the SAFW spotlight this year with his New Talent nomination. Influenced by numerous elements, including architectural structures and abstract art, his work is characterized by a sense of assurity and unrestricted self-expression. Through the minimalist menswear brand Reign of which he is co-founder, he and fellow designer Ben Nozo offer whimsical takes on everyday classics, while his own garments signal Mbuto’s uncompromised vision and penchant for the avant-garde. “My design aesthetic draws its essence from playful, imaginative tales of craftsmanship that explores freedom of self-expression,” he told Industrie Africa. “It reflects both past and present, and is characterized by strength, and a clever combination of functionality and monochromatic detail.”

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Heirloom by Artho Eksteen. Photo via @arthoeksteen

Wild Flower by Michael Ludwig Studio. Photo via @michaelludwigstudio

Reign by Sipho Mbuto. Photo via @siphombuto

4.
Mc Alpine

Founded by Marguerite Mc Alpine, Mc Alpine is a Johannesburg-based, ready-to-wear brand guided by the principles of comfort and quality. Crafted using natural and breathable fabrics including linen and rayon, Mc Alpine’s designs are loose-fitting and notable for their voluminous silhouettes, clean lines, and muted color palette. “When designing, I always keep comfort and functionality in mind,” she explains. “The garment has to be so effortless and easy to wear, it needs to become your go-to piece for any occasion.” Described by the designer as a combination between street and chic and “casual in a not so casual way”, the theme of her latest collection is “Waste Not, Want Not”, and through repurposing scrap fabrics, using leftover materials from previous work, Mc Alpine is set to present a collection of zero-waste garments built to last a lifetime

5.
Saint Vuyo

Saint Vuyo, Thulani Vuyo Mlambo’s clothing brand, offers offbeat takes on everyday classics including tailored shorts, vests, and kimono-style jackets, all inspired by the idea of dismantling society’s hegemonic gender codes, and informed by an approach that considers sustainability and waste reduction. “I love playing with volume and shape as well as draping and zero waste pattern cutting,” Mlambo states. “A large part of my design aesthetic is blurring the lines between gendered clothing.” For Mlambo, his appearance nomination for the SAFW New Talent Competition is something of a full-circle moment, one that to the designer truly represents his creative growth. “My first ever job… was at SA Fashion Week,” he tells Industrie Africa. “I started out as a sales assistant at the pop-up events and a door usher… at the shows. I’m now back as “Thulani Vuyo Mlambo, designer for Saint Vuyo”.

6.
Fikile Sokhulu

A young brand based in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal region, Fikile Sokhulu’s label combines elements of fine art and fashion to create pieces that boast an organic, nature-inspired aesthetic and embrace ultra-feminine silhouettes and detailing. There’s a strength expressed through the soft materiality of her pieces, her employment of gathering and frills creating soft shapes that feel romantic and powerful. According to the designer—who in 2018 produced a capsule collection for South African retail giant MR PRICE—her new collection was based on ideas of harmony and balance, which she expresses in elements that include Asian-influenced graphic prints like Yin Yang symbols and koi fish. “It feels incredible [to be a part of the SAFW New Talent Search],” she tells us. “I’m excited because presenting is going to help market my brand and possibly create new opportunities and connections.”

Lexi Jumpsuit by Mc Alpine. Photo: via @mcalpine_clothing

Saint Vuyo Designs. Photo: via @saint_vuyo

Fikile Sokhulu Designs. Photo: via @sokhulufikile