June | Spotlight On
Discover Sindiso Khumalo's sustainable heirlooms-to-be
The 2020 LVMH prize nominee on social justice, supporting artisans and nostalgic silhouettesEmma Sells
Sindiso Khumalo’s dresses are centred around the women that make them. True, it’s those vibrant colours and intricate block prints that draw you in (a former architect turned textile designer, Khumalo is all about fabric and craft) along with the nostalgic silhouettes – all gathered waists and puffed sleeves inspired by enigmatic photographs of Black women from the 1800s. But these are pieces that you’ll want to get up close and personal with, made with love and care by the seamstresses in Khumalo’s Cape Town workshop, the artisanal weavers in Burkina Faso, and the farmers growing her ethically produced cotton. “The muse speaks to the shape and then the women speak to the cloth,” says Khumalo. “I always start designing a piece by thinking about how many hands we can have making it.”
A Central Saint Martins graduate who started her fashion career printing T-shirts and selling them at Camden Market, Sindiso Khumalo considered setting up her eponymous label in London. But, thanks to the enduring influence of her grandmother – a pattern-cutter who worked in factories during the apartheid era – she has a fierce sense of social justice and passion for activism. So, she returned to South Africa five years ago to start a label that, as well as creating thoughtfully designed, beautifully made pieces, could help the local community, support artisans and empower women by teaching them embroidery and sewing skills, all while offering them a safe, secure working environment. The resulting clothes have all the sartorial appeal that you could want – the label was nominated for the 2020 LVMH prize and is part of the current crop of NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard mentorship initiative.
The sustainable credentials stretch beyond working conditions, too – they minimise waste by making to order and recycle anything they can’t reuse. Most importantly, though, Khumalo’s dresses are the antithesis of fast fashion: these are future heirlooms, designed to spark joy every time they’re worn, to be treasured and handed down. You’ll never want to let them go.
Artwork: Gus & Stella