How do you create beauty from waste? Mekhukhu, a fashion brand that uses discarded fabrics, imagines intergalactic plant-life at the Durban July. An interview with AFI Fastrack 2023 Finalist, Botshelo Molete.

Meet Mekhukhu: The AFI Fastrack Finalist Re-Fashioning Waste

Botshelo Molete’s Mekhukhu Turns Discarded Fabrics into High Fashion 

How Mekhukhu Creates Out of This World Designs From Discarded Fabrics

By Ranji Mangcu

Down to the name of the brand, the self-appointed mandate for Botshelo Molete’s brand, Mekhukhu, is an unending resourcefulness. This was clear as the Johannesburg-based designer explained the unique story behind the name of her brand.  

Mekhukhu is founded on a refreshingly optimistic spirit that treats fashion as an arena for free-spirited fun and renewal. Through its repurposing of discarded fabrics, its quirky print designs and the DIY elements that tie it all together, Mekhukhu is a testament to the idea that anything can be worthy of revival; that even waste can be fashioned into something new and beautiful, so long as you have a vision.  

Like many of her fellow AFI Fastrack finalists, Molete trained her eyes on the many unknowns in the darkness of the galaxy. However, injecting the brand’s distinctly upbeat quirkiness into the Durban July’s “Out of this World” theme, Mekhukhu’s piece gravitated towards a unique sign of life and growth in outer space.  

In saturated tones of pink and purple, layers of pleated mesh lined the arms, back and torso of her piece, adding 3D architectural detail to a structured black dress. Invoking the “amber glow” that signals the presence of vegetation on distant planets, Molete interpreted scientists’ imaginations of what these flowers might look like.   

Although it initially seemed as though it would be a tricky marriage to make, Mekhukhu’s embrace of the Durban July challenge demonstrated her proficiency in bringing disparate parts together in beautiful ways.


Conceptually, the piece struck a balance between the rationality of science and the beauty of life itself.  

AFI: Congratulations on making it this far as a Fastrack Finalist! We are now a few weeks away from the Durban July – How are you feeling about the challenge and your piece? 

BM: This challenge had hands, but I loved how challenging it was. It was a well-designed challenge that pushed us to consider a multitude of things. I especially enjoyed the content creation element, as we needed to take our audience with us on the journey. Everything about this challenge took me out of my comfort zone and, as a designer, I have grown from it. My piece reflects that growth. 

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? 

BM: I had difficult time because it challenged me to make an occasion piece, while my brand’s main focus is ready-to-wear. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. I will definitely be making more pieces that take this direction. 

AFI: Some of the critiques were quite vigorous 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 AFI Fastrack programme and now? 

BM: I believe I have grown in how I receive critique. I was able to apply the advice I got from the judges to better my design. It is a process I am used to – when I was a fashion student at UJ, we would have regular critique in between assignments, so that experience helped me. 

AFI: Where does the concept development process begin for you? What kind of research do you undertake?  

BM: I like to start with a story I want to tell, or a point I wish to make. I collect articles, visuals, stories – anything that inspires me to say it through a garment. That research gets organised into mood boards, and I use those elements to inform my final design. 

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

BM: I’ve learned to always think about how everything I do fits in the bigger picture. The importance of asking myself “How is everything going to work cohesively in the end?”; “Does it make sense?”; “Do all the elements say one thing in the same voice?” 

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? 

BM: Programmes like AFI Fastrack are incredibly important. They give young creatives hope. They highlight our strengths, uplift us, and allow us to see ourselves in roles and positions we’ve always dreamed of. They make things possible. 

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? 

BM: I see myself working full time on my business, participating in all that AFI has to offer. I see my business employing women and becoming a household name. I also hope to do community work, teaching young unemployed women how to recycle waste and make products that they can sell to make a living. 

Click here to follow Botshelo Molete's journey as an AFI Fastrack 2023 finalist. 

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