No. 028 ETHICAL BUSINESS PRACTISE BY SINDISO KHUMALO
Theme: Sustainable Design
The fashion world’s sustainability is currently being questioned on all levels - from the sweat shops of fast fashion and the sourcing of ethical textiles, to the environmental impact of fashion staples like cotton and the pressure to reinvent collections every season. Many in the industry are now challenging these norms but it’s hard for independent designers like Sindiso Khumalo to adhere to sustainable principals without impacting on the economics of the business. However, this internationally renowned designer made it her mission from day one to rise to the challenge, not just in her will to honour the planet, but in the very values of her business practice.
Raised in South Africa she trained at Central Saint Martins in London, and cut her teeth in the British capital working as a designer and stylist for many years. She returned to Cape Town in 2018, and has been making an impression in the local market, setting an example of how a fashion business can be operated sustainably.
Renowned not just as a fashion designer, Khumalo is also an excellent textile designer and her up-beat and beautiful pattern-making honours both her Zulu heritage and her passion for nature. Her garments have a distinct nod to the past in style and substance. When designing, she thinks of the woman first. “The concept always comes from the woman, whoever she is,” she explains. “Sometimes I have to find her. They are often women of history, or the inspiration comes from the story of how clothing and women are connected. In my research, I also require a social understanding of that time. The textiles will always reflect that woman and what her experience would have been. I believe you can do a lot of storytelling through textiles.” Khumalo also feels that the pressure of redesigning a wholly new collection every season is totally unsustainable. So certain prints and styles are carried through for a few seasons.
Sourcing fabrics is also deeply important to her. Where she can, she seeks out African farmed and woven cotton, knowing the traceability and ethics of the supplier; and she is working on how waste from her studio could be recycled or utilised, and researching how fabric off-cuts could be returned to thread to be re-woven.
This year Khumalo became joint winner of the highly coveted 2020 LVMH Prize (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy Group) for young fashion designers. The prize includes funding and mentoring from the large LVMH network of top industry stalwarts such as Vogue’s Edward Enninful and Anna Wintour. “Speaking to them about the work I do was a very pivotal moment for my career,” explains Khumalo.
Most recently, she has established a partnership with a local NGO in Cape Town called Embrace Dignity that helps women get off the streets and guides them toward long-term careers. Through these partnerships, the designer and her team train women in hand embroidery and crochet, helping them to support themselves. Through this and many of her projects, her mission is always seeking out upliftment for fellow women.
And during the lockdown she has been working with women in Woodstock on embroidery pieces which they can make from home. She has Zoom calls with her pattern cutter and is running a gofundme project to uplift the community of Imizamo Yethu by providing them with masks, hand sanitizers and food supplies. Whatever challenges the post-pandemic world brings to the fashion industry, there is no doubt Khumalo has primed her business to take them on and move forward.
100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.