What greater feeling could there be than being asked by Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E Carter to create costumes for Hollywood movie stars to wear in the movie sequel Coming 2 America?
World-renowned fashion designer Laduma Ngxokolo would not be where he is today had his mother not taught him how to knit, thus kindling his passion for fashion. While Laduma means ‘to thunder’ in Zulu and is screamed in excitement in SA when a soccer goal is scored, Laduma himself is a Xhosa man with deep traditional roots.
Born in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) in the Eastern Cape, and now living in Johannesburg, Laduma says his mother passed down her design skills and knowledge and inspired him to follow his passion.
He studied textile design and technology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which is where the idea for his clothing brand MaXhosa by Laduma formed. The brand was officially launched in 2011 and later rebranded as MaXhosa Africa.
“I was doing my thesis in 2010, which focused on creating alternative fashion choices for Xhosa initiates (amakrwala). In the Xhosa culture, when a young man turns 18 he undergoes an initiation ceremony that marks his passage to manhood. During this time, he gets a new wardrobe to celebrate,” explains Laduma.
As custom dictates, amakrwala men then wear dignified formal clothing for six months after their initiation, and this is what Laduma wanted to create. His vision was to showcase his culture’s beautiful cultural dress and beadwork to the world, but he wanted to modernise the threads to appeal to the youth. To find inspiration, he spent time in museums and libraries researching examples of what Xhosa people wore during the early 1900s.
However, he explains, his culture is so ingrained in him that he didn’t have to look far.
“Creativity wasn’t a problem. All I had to do was think about my mother teaching us about our Xhosa tradition and taking out anthropologic books from libraries. Instead of bedtime stories, we had our beautiful folklore (intsomi) tales, which are passed down from generation to generation. These powerfully instilled my pride in my culture,” says Laduma.
“My mother’s love of design and craft – and her exceptionally high standards – are the reasons I became the success I am today. As a result, MaXhosa Africa is proudly a brand that pays homage to my mother and culture and is inclusive by design,” he adds.
Laduma says Ruth’s vision was to show a ‘little more of the real Africa’. “I had to give her that and more. As my work is also about storytelling, I went to the drawing board to conceptualise ideas that were fitting. Each garment had to interpret certain characters and we were looking at lighter and more artistic designs.” Ruth then chose the pieces and costumes that were best suited to the movie.
“It was breathtaking and surreal to see my work featured in such a prominent film. It’s such a great gesture and achievement seeing your work being recognised on such a global platform and knowing people can put Eddie Murphy and MaXhosa in one sentence. As a brand, we are extremely proud and look forward to having many more moments like this.”
Since the movie launched, Laduma says his journey has been fulfilling.
“We have grown in many aspects of the business and have received many opportunities. We are excited about the direction we’re heading.” He cites one of his greatest milestones as MaXhosa Africa’s value chains and the company’s expansion.
“In SA, we have opened stores in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gqeberha,” says Laduma, whose latest store opened in Durban in March.
While Laduma’s work is his life and he breathes and sleeps his brand, his happy place, he says, is being at home with his dogs, Lesedi and Madumane.
“While I spend most of my time thinking about how to stay relevant and finding ways of challenging myself to expand and better the brand, family comes first. I make sure I have time for that.”
Photos by: Young Stilo, Debi Sucha, Gary van Wyk and Trevor Stuurman.