AFI Fastrack 2023 Finalist, Thandazani Nofingxana elevates culture through fashion

AFI Fastrack 2023 Finalist, Thandazani Nofingxana elevates culture through fashion

ABANTU: A Heritage-Driven Brand Telling Stories of Xhosa Culture

AFI Fastrack 2023 Finalist, Thandazani Nofingxana positions fashion and textile design at the centre of his homage to Xhosa heritage. 

By Ranji Mangcu

Thandazani Nofingxana’s ABANTU goes against the grain by positioning heritage as contemporary by nature. Nofingxana levels his practice as a fashion and textile designer as an arena for an homage to Xhosa heritage and the Eastern Cape.

Textile development being at the centre of this homage could not be more fitting. After all, the Eastern Cape is gradually becoming the third centre of South Africa’s fashion conversation. Designers such as Lukhanyo Mdingi and Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa have made it part of their mission to pour back into the region’s once-burgeoning textile industry through their experimental uses of Merino Wool and Kid Mohair.  



Even in channelling the extra-terrestrial, ABANTU’s response to the Durban July’s “Out of this World” theme remained heritage-driven, in line with Nofingxana’s mission to “elevate culture”. 

Nofingxana levelled a playful use of form, colour and dimension to interpret the wooden branches of Inyanda into an alien-esque composition. An interwoven outerwear garment takes centre stage, architecturally referencing the form of Inyanda over an all-encompassing, purple, black and orange knit base. Bearing a vertically lined, purple-and-black print design from head to toe, a balaclava, jersey and pants formed an amorphous base.  

In its answer to the AFI Fastrack Durban July Challenge, the brand’s exploration of Xhosa culture offered Nofingxana a world of time-honoured knowledge. Rather than look outwards, all he had to do was ensconce himself in the world of Xhosa tradition, reimagining a familiar part of Xhosa traditional home life to channel the otherworldly.  

AFI: Congratulations on making it this far as a Fastrack Finalist! It has now been a few weeks since the Durban July. How are you feeling about the challenge and your piece? 

TN: I’m feeling quite positive, I’ve chosen a different route from what I am used to and I am super proud of what this experiment will turn out to be outside of the Durban July.  I almost feel like I’ve developed an entire design language for my brand for the next year. 

AFI: How do you believe your piece either follows, improves upon or intentionally deviates from the traditions of the Durban July? 

TN: My piece definitely deviated from Durban July tradition. Given that my outfit will be on a female model, one might have expected a dress. Instead, I created a genderless look – pants and jersey for a ready-to-wear clientele, as well as a very avant-garde outer garment structure that can live in multiple spaces, from textile art to wall art.  I intend to expand on the technique I used in producing this outfit in different arenas, such as interior design.  



AFI: How did you find the experience of balancing your brand ethos with the theme? Did you find that it was an easy marriage to make? 

TN: I was quite intentional about stepping out of my comfort zone for this look.  Working on the structure of Inyanda, I had to navigate darkness in search of the light. But the most beautiful thing about it is that I’ll be using this technique for pieces going forward.  The entire process felt like a bootcamp in my studio, involving experimentation at the highest level. Making the marriage was easy, I just needed to make it conceptually seamless. 

AFI: Some of the critiques were quite vigorous/direct, and I can imagine that they were a shock to the system – would you say you’ve grown in how you receive critique, between the beginning of the programme and now? 

TN: You know, this entire experience wasn’t exactly new to my system, but I had forgotten how vigorous it was. I haven’t been in the position to be critiqued in almost five years, so this was almost a “Remember-Me” moment.  More than anything, I’ve learnt so much about my abilities, especially in producing this outfit. 



AFI: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned through the AFI Fastrack programme thus far? 

TN: Branding. In everything that designers do, we need to stay on brand. This involves being intentional about wearing your brand’s clothes in an event. I’ve also learnt that partnerships are important – expanding your brand and reaching a different audience, simply by partnering with other brands. 

AFI: Many South African creatives have lamented the lack of infrastructure in place to effectively support South African creative industries. What is the importance of programmes such as AFI Fastrack in the uncertain, often emotionally taxing creative landscape of South Africa? 

TN: This programme is particularly important. Outside of looking at it as a competition, the AFI Fastrack Programme is intentional about introducing us to the different facets of the fashion industry. Going to Botswana for the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit – my first time travelling outside of South Africa – was a revelation. The opportunity to experience various other industries and individuals has been interesting. Everything that we have done so far has been tailored for us as young designers to open ourselves up and learn to adapt. 

AFI: Have you always envisioned yourself as a professional fashion designer? 

TN: I’ve known since I was a kid that I wanted to be a creative. I remember that I had a deal with my English teacher in primary school, where I gave her books from my mother’s bookshop. In exchange, she would make printouts of my drawings for me at the school’s only printer, which was in the principal’s office… In this story, she acted as my manufacturer, which is how I am operating right now; selling prints and building my own space to do so. 



AFI: What have you been up to since Cape Town Fashion Week and being announced as an AFI Fastrack 2023 Finalist?  

TN: I’ve been running my textile design consultancy business, where we develop prints and graphics for brands as well as individuals. We recently had exhibitions with Clout SA. Most excitingly, we will be dropping a capsule collection, which we’ve been working on since March.  

AFI: You could choose to go in a multitude of directions from here. Where do you envision your brand’s trajectory in, say, the next five years?  

TN: In the next five years, I envision ABANTU having a factory/workshop in the Eastern Cape, producing sustainable knitwear, rugs and clothing of the highest quality, selling globally, and enabling sustainable job-creation in the region. 

Click here to follow Thandazani Nofingxana's journey as an AFI Fastrack 2023 finalist.

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