Mzukisi Mbane: More than a fashion statement, a celebration
- Beginnings, inspirations.
- Storytelling, celebrating heritage.
- Between art and business.
- Goals for the future.
Cape Town-born fashion designer, Mzukisi Mbane, is a special kind of genius. His flair and magic for textiles is lovingly evoked by the prints he imbues into the fabric he uses to create his striking garments. This is more than an aesthetic or fashion statement. Rather, his work becomes an homage to the millennia-old tradition of making clothes, the culture of prints and the stories they transfer to each generation. He is both narrator and shaper of culture, and in African fashion, he is the new face of African heritage.
Born and raised in Khayelitsha, the township would fuel Mbane’s creativity and determination. Says the designer: “The township is very diverse and that’s the beautiful thing about it. In my work, there are a lot of elements that come together and should not work together, but they do to create this beautiful vibe.”
His mother of course would be the focus of his oeuvre. The designer is self-taught, but his mum’s sewing machine would be the catalyst for his creative journey. “You can see my mom in all my collections. There’s always that softness, strength and fluidity in everything that I do; which symbolises what she stood for.”
These two threads would be part of the heft that led him to the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives incubator programme. The Design Indaba is a South African design event that began in 1995. For the last two decades, it has promoted and celebrated all creative sectors, starting with Africa, and going international. Part of its manifesto is to improve quality of life and give dignity to its practitioners and has been a vital partner in encouraging local talent to venture into global markets.
Mbane’s time with the Design Indaba would prove fundamental to the success he enjoys today. Being part of the programme instilled the robust confidence he needed as a designer, as well as selling out his stock on the first day of the exhibition. “That space of being an Emerging Creative for those few days, it transformed my business to the next level,” he recalls
It would not be his last encounter with the Design Indaba. Each year Design Indaba asks cultural influencers to choose 10 pieces that they consider extraordinarily beautiful. In 2019, Mzukisi Mbane was among the nominees for his ‘African Bridal Dress’. The gown – cast in an early South African Victorian era silhouette – amplifies an eclectic print, inspired by a rich Asian history on the continent. The Afro-Futuristic aesthetic, meanwhile, personifies an African identity and celebrates the continent’s diversity. Being nominated for the Most Beautiful Object in the South Africa was certainly the indication of great things to come, namely his luxury fashion brand, ‘Imprint ZA’.
“I want a black child born and raised in the township to aspire to be great in the township.”
Storytelling, celebrating heritage.
‘Imprint ZA’ is Mbane’s medium with which to tell stories. He began making his own prints in 2015 as a way to showcase his originality & design flair as well as his authenticity. “I always push to create a print that has an authentic connection to the African identity. For me, whenever I produce a collection it’s never really about creating beautiful clothes or models on a runway, it’s about telling a story.”
This is seen most clearly in his collection, ‘Abenguni’, a celebration of his Xhosa identity and which embodies a dialogue with his ancestors. For the collection, he specifically created the prints to represent his clan through shapes, faces and colours.
Between art and business.
As a label, Imprint ZA has won many fans for its fashion-forward attitude, streetwear nuances and assertive tailoring and of course its cultural kudos. He has been praised and featured by Vogue, Elle, and GQ. Running a business has had its own challenges and Mbane has wise words for young entrepreneurs and creatives in the gig economy. “The business side of things is the most important part of it. Creativity can only take you so far. Getting funding is very hard and the business needs finance. You need to have a business strategy; you need to have a very strong brand identity. Brand identity and strong design aesthetic is what gives you longevity,” he says.
Goals for the future.
Mbane believes in the transformative power of fashion. “My biggest dreams are creating and changing what townships are. How they are seen by people outside and how they are seen by people inside. I want my brand to be based in the township. Be able to have a factory that employs people in the township, a place where we can help mentor young people, a lifestyle centre that will attract people from all over. I want a black child born and raised in the township to aspire to be great in the township, build in the township, to change the idea that you have to leave to have a chance at having a better life.”
Through the medium of fashion, Mzukisi Mbane has energised a continuity of his culture by way of the modernity he exists in.
C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.
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