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Cape Citizen

Born in the Eastern Cape, the Cape Town-based designer and creative director of eponymous label Lukhanyo Mdingi reflects on carving an intentional place in the fashion landscape and his eminent launch of an ecommerce site.

By Nkgopoleng Moloi

It is a punishingly hot day in Cape Town when I catch Lukhanyo Mdingi over a Zoom call. I’m in the blistering heat while he is in the more temperate Paris on a work trip following his AMIRI Prize win. Although he is on a series of work trips in Europe when we speak, I don’t miss the opportunity to ask him about his home base. “I love Cape Town. I love its sensibility and the community I have been able to create during my time here. It is home,” he says.

Lukhanyo speaks softly with deliberate pauses. In our conversation, the word discernment comes up a few times which I take to mean slow, contemplated and appraised.

Lukhanyo is a creative director with immense fashion authority whose accolades include a joint award of the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize in 2021 and participation in the Ethical Fashion Initiative’s inaugural accelerator programme in 2020. The South African designer was awarded the 2023 AMIRI Prize — an inclusive annual award and incubator under the mentorship of American fashion designer Mike Amiri, established to encourage, nurture and showcase up-and-coming talent from fashion and fashion-adjacent fields.

A typical day in his life involves arriving early at the, setting up meetings with various team members, and facilitating and guiding creative output, which might involve admin, fieldwork (visiting manufacturers for instance) and research. Research is the foundation of the brand’s working process. “No matter what the inspiration is, the intention is always to understand provenance. Whether through visuals, texts, or images, the brand allows for what is at the core of the inspiration to come through,” he says. His rigorous focus on process and documentation allows him to create in previously unimaged ways while nodding to the sources that breathe life into the work. As an example, his eponymous Burkina Collection was influenced by the CABES textile community in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – a place remembers fondly.

In an industry riddled with the cult of personality, Lukhanyo is a breath of fresh air — he is tender, contemplative, and incredibly considered. Our conversation takes on a slow tempo as he describes the gratitude and sense of community that guide his practice. “I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities and the challenges I have experienced over the last nine years.”

Since its founding in 2015, the brand has reached unbelievable heights. “I find myself looking at the next thing. I am committed to the big picture and am constantly thinking about what is next,” says Lukhanyo. Talking about finding a healthy balance between work and the personal he reminds me: “We live in a world where people want to know everything. I understand in terms of the work, but that doesn’t mean having to expose one’s private life.” He holds this philosophy dearly as he gently steers the conversation to foreground his work.

The brand’s focus has remained resolute, with an emphasis on sculptural precision and elegant, precise yet fluid designs. This now includes a sports capsule that premiered exclusively on lemkus.com in late 2023. From accessories (monogram print scarves, brown cord necklaces, Tiger’s eye and gold earrings) to the sports collection and his exclusive tailored collection, the forms echo realms of natural beauty encapsulated by rich materials. Whether it is organic cotton, merino wool or metal thread, the brand’s emphasis on craft and considered designs permeates authenticity. “There is a push and pull between the business and creative sides. This relationship can be extremely difficult. I have learnt the importance of pragmatism and I believe that a clear sense of strategy is crucial. The mix between flexibility and decisiveness ensures that the team and the business are protected,” Lukhanyo explains.

Lukhanyo is optimistic about the South African fashion landscape, seeing the visibility that many local brands and creatives are finally garnering for themselves. “I feel proud when I see my peers working hard and receiving recognition. There is such a beautiful spirit that is community-driven. It is a testament to the kind of resilient and wonderful human beings we are as South Africans,” he notes.

The designer tells me that the product of many months of hard work is about to come live — the launch of an e-commerce site that will allow direct-to-consumer engagement. This is a big step in expanding the brands’ accessibility, both locally and globally. The online shop, set to launch this month, will include the brand’s capsule collection, everyday pieces, accessories and a few homeware items.

lukhanyomdingi.co.za

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