The Cul­tural Ex­change Agent

SLOW Magazine - - Contents -

Iwas noth­ing more than a frumpy teenager when my mother de­cided, one ran­dom win­ter’s day, that my father and I both needed new jer­seys. This de­ci­sion was not made in a col­lab­o­ra­tive man­ner or as part of a con­sul­ta­tive process, and she had al­ready set­tled on a simple, in­of­fen­sive, and ut­terly non­de­script cardi­gan from an af­ford­able chain store. As such, my father and I promptly be­came cardi­gan own­ers: a black one for me, and a navy blue one for him.

It re­ally was noth­ing spe­cial, but for some rea­son I lit­er­ally wore mine down to its last threads. My father, who didn’t have a typ­i­cal of­fice job at the time and was al­ways up and about dur­ing the day, run­ning around in short sleeves, had less love for his ver­sion, and hap­pily handed his barely-worn ver­sion over to me when mine was laid to rest. More than two decades later, I still have that seem­ingly im­mor­tal cardi­gan – al­beit with more holes, and a few brightly coloured threads of wool here and there to keep the whole thing to­gether.

Ev­ery year, when win­ter comes out to play and I de­cide not to leave home, my faith­ful cardi­gan also makes an ap­pear­ance. I be­lieve that there is some­thing in­her­ently mag­i­cal about knitwear. Whether it’s a generic item from a chain store like my cardi­gan, a beau­ti­fully crafted de­signer piece, or even that weirdly shaped, chunky jer­sey cre­ated with love by a rel­a­tive, there are few items of cloth­ing that can wrap one in as much warmth, com­fort and nostal­gia than a trusty jer­sey.

There is value in simple de­signs of a sin­gle colour when it comes to knitwear. Ul­ti­mately, knitwear pro­vides as much op­por­tu­nity for ex­pres­sion as any other piece of cloth­ing – just think of how the English have em­braced wacky Christ­mas-themed jer­seys, for ex­am­ple. And when knitwear moves be­yond the purely func­tional, it be­comes a means of sto­ry­telling.

It’s this sto­ry­telling that de­fines the glob­ally lauded, lo­cally de­signed Max­hosa brand of knitwear. The Max­hosa by Lad­uma brand was started in 2010 by Lad­uma Ngx­okolo with the aim of cre­at­ing gar­ments that would be suit­able for amakr­wala, young Xhosa ini­ti­ates. The Xhosa na­tion, one of the dom­i­nant ethic groups in South Africa, is steeped in her­itage and tra­di­tion, which is why the amakr­wala must dress up in dig­ni­fied new for­mal cloth­ing for six months af­ter their ini­ti­a­tion into man­hood.

Ngx­okolo – who has been through this ex­pe­ri­ence him­self – felt that he had to de­velop “pre­mium” knitwear that cel­e­brates the tra­di­tional Xhosa cul­ture and aes­thet­ics. As part of his process, he ex­plored tra­di­tional Xhosa bead­work pat­terns and con­sid­ered the var­ied sym­bol­ism and colours of his na­tion, soon re­al­is­ing that it was just the in­spi­ra­tion he was looking for. Us­ing only South African wool and mo­hair, Ngx­okolo set to work on his de­signs – and has never looked back.

While com­pletely in­spired by his Xhosa her­itage, the Max­hosa brand has been em­braced by South Africans and global cit­i­zens alike, with fans – and cus­tomers – from as far afield as Lon­don, Paris, Am­s­ter­dam, Oslo, Ber­lin and New York. He was awarded the 2014 We­trans­fer Schol­ar­ship to study for a Mas­ter’s De­gree in Ma­te­rial Fu­tures at Cen­tral Saint Martins in Lon­don, and grad­u­ated in 2016. As a stu­dent he won the 2015 Vogue Italia Scout­ing for Africa prize to show­case his col­lec­tions at the Palazzo Mo­rando Show in Mi­lan, Italy.

Since launch­ing his brand in 2010, not a year has gone by in which Ngx­okolo has not been awarded for his work, with high­lights in­clud­ing the 2011 Marie Claire Prix De Ex­cel­lence, Best Emerg­ing De­signer Award, the 2016 De­sign Ind­aba Most Beau­ti­ful Ob­ject in South Africa Award and, most re­cently, the 2017 Pride of Africa award at Africa Fash­ion Week Barcelona. To crown it all, he was also named the Most Stylish De­signer at the 2016 SA Style Awards.

With most of his col­lec­tions, Ngx­okolo aims to ex­press the beauty in cul­tural ex­change, specif­i­cally between the dress codes of Western and Xhosa cul­tures. It’s a de­sign process that gives his cloth­ing longevity, as his de­signs are not driven by fash­ion per se, but by “a more utopian African feel that will stand the test of time”. In a time when cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion is a hot topic, Ngx­okolo ap­proaches it with pos­i­tiv­ity to make bold state­ments show­ing how so­phis­ti­cated, mod­ern and au­then­tic cul­tural dis­plays can com­bine.

The global recog­ni­tion al­ready started in 2016 when two of Max­hosa’s looks were dis­played at the Smith­so­nian Mu­seum in

New York City, where it caught the eye of in­ter­na­tional su­per­star Bey­oncé. In­spired by the work, Bey­oncé com­mended Ngx­okolo on her web­site – much to the de­light of her fans and South Africans ev­ery­where. This year, Max­hosa also made its de­but on the red car­pet when Ngx­okolo had the op­por­tu­nity to dress ac­tors John and Atandwa Kani. Proud Xhosa men, the father and son duo proudly re­flected their re­gal roles in the movie Black Pan­ther by wear­ing beau­ti­ful Max­hosa by Lad­uma shawls.

Ngx­okolo de­scribes him­self as an agent of change, “shift­ing and evolv­ing with the chang­ing times and fur­ther en­gag­ing in di­a­logue that pushes Xhosa cul­ture to the future”. To achieve this, the brand tells lit­tle sto­ries about this cul­ture through­out its web­site. One such story – as the opener to the fan­tas­tic range of Max­hosa socks – is how the Xhosa peo­ple be­lieve that your feet could carry you to oc­ca­sions you never an­tic­i­pated you’d ap­pear in. (The con­cept is di­rectly trans­lated in Xhosa as “Unyawo alu­nam­pumlo”.)

Like the socks, Ngx­okolo’s col­lec­tions for both men and women are bold in con­cept and vivid in colour. Each col­lec­tion tells a story, deeply rooted in his own life ex­pe­ri­ences, but re­spect­ful of Xhosa cul­ture, and ul­ti­mately time­less and fash­ion­able. There’s also a small, yet strik­ing col­lec­tion of rugs that will add warmth and colour to any house.

In an age where there are few top­ics more per­ti­nent than Black Ex­cel­lence, Ngx­okolo is a vi­sion­ary for pur­su­ing and pro­mot­ing the ex­cel­lence of his own cul­ture be­fore it be­came the sub­ject du jour. His mul­ti­ple awards over the past few years speaks vol­umes about his own be­liefs in ex­cel­lence and how his mes­sage res­onates with his au­di­ence, and the global recog­ni­tion is only set to grow.

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