As Joburg Fashion Week 2023 draws closer, Africa Fashion International is proud to celebrate designers who have graced the AFI runways with stunning collections that celebrate African luxury.
It’s fitting that we begin with a designer whose brand exemplifies the intersection of African tradition and luxury; Bongiwe Walaza.
Founded in 2003, Bongiwe Walaza proposes a new visual language for celebrating South African traditional dress. In addition to her design proficiency, Walaza’s showcases at past fashion weeks have boasted her ability to bring her imagination to life in sleek and functional designs.
Bongiwe Walaza is known for bringing classic silhouettes to life through elements of African traditional dress, from Shweshwe print reimagined in a statuesque peplum silhouette, to traditional Xhosa umbhaco reimagined as a regal, empire-waisted bridal gown.
What this designer describes as a “classic twist” on African traditional dress captures contemporary audiences who have long looked for fashion that bridges the many parts of their cultural identities and perspectives, embracing African tradition as an intrinsic part of contemporary lifestyle.
In an itemized list, the brand’s first lookbook – produced to document one of Walaza’s earliest collections – describes the Bongiwe Walaza signature style as:
- “Figure-Friendly Layering”
- “Self-Generated Handcrafted Detailing”
- “Seamless Colour-Co-Ordination”
- “Global Version of Afro-Inspired Elegance”
Joburg Fashion Week 2023 certainly won’t be Walaza’s first Joburg Fashion Week appearance. Ahead of Walaza’s return to the runway, we’ve decided to spotlight her two most iconic Joburg Fashion Week showcases.
Bongiwe Walaza made her Joburg Fashion Week debut in March 2011, with a collection that paid tribute to the flora and fauna of South Africa. Introducing her unapologetically flouncy, feminine aesthetic to Johannesburg’s fashion audiences, the collection was a feast of ruffles, textures and rich tones of black, white, brown and gold. From velvety evening pieces to her signature shweshwe dresses, Walaza made her mark early, with a womenswear collection perfectly attuned to the emancipated, cosmopolitan working-girl of 2000’s Johannesburg.
At her Joburg Fashion Week 2013 show, Walaza continued in the tradition of bringing Shweshwe and other traditional African prints and patterns to the runway.
This time, doubling down on her signature material. The collection reflected a balanced approach by Walaza in amplifying the femininity of Shweshwe. This material – so tied to work and ceremony – was lent a sleek and stylish quality in some pieces, and a flouncy femininity through layered ruffles in others.
In recent years, Bongiwe Walaza has set herself about for being a textile expert, experimenting with various textiles, from the coarsely woven cotton used for umbhaco, to sheshwe prints. She has since attracted a clientele of some of South Africa’s influential figures and is a go-to for high wattage traditional garments.