Xolani Magadla and Mawande Mbawuli: A Fashion Duo Telling Stories Through Contrasting Perspectives
Cape Town fashion brand, Xolani Mawande, combines contrasting backgrounds and perspectives to tell African stories through fashion
By Ranji Mangcu
Being the only duo taking part in the AFI Fastrack 2023 programme, Xolani Magadla and Mawande Mbawuli’s brand, Xolani Mawande, relies on a refreshing synergy that interweaves their equally rich yet contrasting perspectives.
It made for a strong response by the duo, to the AFI Fastrack Durban July challenge – uNonkwenkwezi, Queen of the Stars.
Building a fashion brand as a duo is bound to require a certain balance and appreciation of difference. Aside from their shared Xhosa backgrounds, the brand is their middle-ground, where the sensibilities of their two worlds come together to tell beautiful, people-centred stories.
The brand represents a meeting point for their contrasting home-landscapes of small-town Eastern Cape, and the more populous, vibrant Cape Town. Here, Mbawuli’s extroverted disposition is balanced out by Magadla’s more soft-spoken presence.
Their shared resourcefulness is at the core of their brand; from their re-use of materials, to their ability to find form and inspiration in the most mundane of household items (I vaguely remember them using a Tupperware to demonstrate their initial idea for a Durban July fascinator).
Using Afro-Futurism as a reference point, they conjured up a character – a Goddess named Nonkwenkwezi. Dressed in a dazzling silver gown with black tulle lining the arms, this Queen of the Stars made her celestial return to Earth to honour the occasion of the Durban July.
AFI spoke to the designers about their AFI Fastrack 2023 journey so far.
AFI: It has now been a few weeks since the Durban July – How are you feeling about the challenge and your piece?
XM: Thank you so much! It was an exciting challenge, despite the minor challenges we faced abiding by the brief. We are thrilled for everyone to see what we have come up with in our interpretation of the challenge.
AFI: What have you been up to since Cape Town Fashion Week?
XM: Immediately after AFI Cape Town Fashion Week, we had the opportunity to showcase a capsule collection at SA Menswear Week. Despite not having much time, we are happy that we were able to produce and tell a beautiful story with our showcase. We stay busy with our daily line of work – designing and dressing fashionistas at large.
AFI: The critiques for the AFI Fastrack Durban July Challenge were quite vigorous. Would you say you’ve grown in how you receive critique, between the beginning of the programme and now?
XM: It did come as shock to us because we had not anticipated that. But we felt it was a learning curve. We found the critique constructive and educational, because it came from respected industry experts. We believe we’ve definitely grown in taking critique, because we know that the aim is always to help us grow as creatives and businesspeople.
AFI: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned through the Fastrack programme thus far?
XM: The most valuable thing we have learnt thus far is that the business of fashion is about much more than just the clothes. There are many factors to building a successful fashion brand, such as brand marketing, quality production and the storytelling that inspires clients to buy.
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 this one in the uncertain, often emotionally taxing creative landscape of South Africa?
XM: It is important to have programs like this one, because they enable creatives like us to tell stories through our creativity and realise our dreams. There are many talented creatives who have thrown in the towel due to a lack of resources, infrastructure and support. We are grateful for programs like this one.
AFI: How do you believe your piece either follows, improves upon or intentionally deviates from the traditions of the Durban July?
XM: Our piece improves upon the traditions of the Durban-July by being an elegant, high-end piece. We ensured that we incorporated a head-piece suitable for a horse-racing event.
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?
XM: Although not entirely easy, it wasn’t too difficult for us. We are familiar with making elegant pieces. We made sure that we remained on-brand through our fabric choice, choosing a dotted fabric that aligned with our Cape Town Fashion Week look.
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?
XM: In 5 years, we aim to be a South African high fashion brand, catering for both local and international luxury clientele, and positioning our brand to create jobs for the unemployed.
Click here to follow Xolani Mawande's journey as AFI Fastrack 2023 finalists.