African Design house Maxhosa Africa on sustaining a globally-acclaimed brand

Laduma Ngxokolo is the South African knitwear and textile producer from Port Elizabeth changing the narrative on what African fashion luxury is. His design house; Maxhosa Africa, is internationally acclaimed and has been noticed and worn by many affluent people; from Beyonce, Tiwa Savage to Jidenna. The AFI Insider caught up with him ahead of his speaking engagement at AFI Masterclass  and showcase at AFI Fashion Week, in Cape Town from the 12 – 14 March. He spoke about the role his family played in driving   his success, while sustaining a globally-acclaimed brand and maintaining its exclusivity despite the Zara fallout.

One can argue that it has been a good past few months for the Maxhosa Africa brand. From debuting at New York Fashion Week last year, opening a flagship store at Mall of Africa, to launching a homeware range at the Design Indaba last year.‘So, what more does he have under his sleeves?’ I ask myself, prior to having a conversation with him. He is set to speak at SLOW in the City, in Sandton, alongside fellow entrepreneur, Veli Ngubane, on embracing African culture in branding and design. This is a Slow in the City talk in partnership with BrainFarm, titled #SpeakEasy.

Laduma Ngxokolo hails from Port Elizabeth, a small city in the Eastern Cape, raised by a single mother. Her mother, aborn entrepreneur, had so much influence on him starting the Maxhosa brand. She taught him how to knit at the age of 15, using a hand-operated machine. “My mother was a knitter. She never worked for anyone but herself. I believe that the entrepreneurial side of my character comes from her,” he mentions.

His sister, Tina Ngxokolo, nods in agreement to Laduma’s statement. Tina  is also an acclaimed fashion designer in her own right and a co-creative director of MaXhosa Africa. She has been working alongside Laduma for a while now and her style is underground and strictly locally produced. They source their textiles from their home town,Port Elizabeth, and process them in their factory in Johannesburg where the raw material get dyed to required colours and prints.

“When I started MaXhosa, 10 years ago, I wanted to create a timeless African luxury brand”

ON HIS PRICING

In the middle of our conversation, Laduma and myself end up talking about the elephant in the room, that  some local consumers complain about his price points and he seems unbothered by the social media outrage on this. “When I started MaXhosa, 10 years ago, I wanted to create a timeless African luxury brand.” He says. “I was inspired by the Xhosa initiates coming back from the mountain. I realised that we had been wearing a lot of brands from Europe and wanted an original South African brand to be the uniform for those initiates”.

He further explains that his brand uses locally-sourced and produced raw materials from Port Elizabeth followed by a dying process that takes place in their factory in Johannesburg. All of this requires time, precision and a lot of resources. They furthermore, produce in small quantities to maintain the brands equity and exclusivity. A Maxhosa piece, according to Laduma, ought to be a timeless piece that lasts for a long time. “Our product is purely South African-made, it’s strong and can last you a lot of years”.

He says that he has declined “hundred millions” of Rands offered by European companies wanting to take over the brand, because to him the brand stands for family values and family generational wealth.

He changed his initial brand name; MaXhosa by Laduma to Maxhosa Africa and explains  that his strategic decision came at the right time – a time where the brand is positioned to outlive him as the founder and creative director. “As an entrepreneur, I asked myself if I wanted to create a global brand or to be famous.” He adds, “I felt that this brand, being the first of its kind in Africa, belonged to Africa and I wanted it to continue even when I die one day,” he concluded.

On Zara

One of the questions I posed to Laduma was controversial issue that had kept him in the hotseat with the audience – the Zara case. Maxhosa Africa and the international fast-fashion retailer initially intended to sell the designer’s signature prints in 2018. Without letting out too much, Laduma stated, “I won’t say much on the Zara issue because I signed a non-confidential disclosure”. He adds that Zara had approached them for a collaboration and it did not align with their vision, so they declined the offer. However, Zara allegedly went forward and released the pair of socks without an agreement.

The issue is still being processed and both parties have since agreed to settle out of court.

Laduma will be speaking at the AFI Masterclass on the topic; ‘Fashion and Sustainability’ on the 12th of March, while his brand, Maxhosa Africa, will be showcasing its latest collection at AFI Fashion Week from 12 – 14 March in Cape Town. Get your tickets here

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