RMB Solutionist Thinking is a podcast series hosted by Bruce Whitfield which focusses on great South African minds thinking differently and going against the norm. In this episode in the second series, Whitfield interviews South African designer and founder of a Xhosa-inspired knitwear brand, Laduma Ngxokolo.
As a little boy growing up in the dusty streets of the Eastern Cape, knitting wasn't exactly his idea to start with – so, when Laduma's mother passed on, shortly after empowering her beloved son with the skill, he had no idea that his new-found passion would become his means of survival.
Navigating through life in the absence of their matriarch, the pressure began to mount for Laduma and his siblings – who began to face the challenges that arose in a child-headed home. To meet the family's basic needs, Laduma tapped into his creative skills and sold scarves at school to raise enough money to survive and, continue to attend school. This shaped his life and, created the basis of what is now, an innovative business with global potential that can have a local impact.
Determined to carve his own path, Laduma believed that, in order to succeed as a global entrepreneur, he had to elevate his skill set through tertiary education. This understanding, along with his curiosity around his father, led him to reconnect with his family lineage and, to immerse himself into Xhosa anthropology – an identity, his mother cemented into the minds of her children.
I thought at a time, if I didn't infuse education, I could only hit the ceiling, which is my hometown. I couldn't go beyond...— Laduma Ngxokolo, Designer – MaXhosa Africa
In his findings, Laduma discovered the origins of the centuries-old, traditional Xhosa beadwork that was so deeply embedded in his Xhosa heritage and, adapted it to create a 21st Century knitwear for Xhosa initiates. He traced it back to the 1800s, to a time when beads were so valuable that, in the absence of currency, it was bought from foreign traders scattered across the Eastern Cape, with cows.
Our DNA is our currency.— Laduma Ngxokolo, Designer – MaXhosa Africa
His motivation for the birth of his luxury African heritage brand, MaXhosa Africa? A rejection of the 'borrowed culture' and the adoption of an identity that wasn't ours – he sought out to discover "something that would resonate with us, that will celebrate us, that will acknowledge our past," he explains.
I felt like I needed to acknowledge the initial craftsmanship and graphic imprint.— Laduma Ngxokolo, Designer – MaXhosa Africa
Today, the MaXhosa Africa brand has gained recognition beyond its native roots, mainly by courtesy of plagiarism on the part of mainstream fashion retailer, Zara – but, its appeal has attracted attention on a global level, sparking plans for expansions locally and, internationally.