Sundays in Cape Town are quiet. In a city so known for it’s leisurely pace it’s referred to by the rest of the country as “Slaapstad”, activities on a Sunday are discreet and minimal. Unless you are Laduma Ngxokolo, who – on one of these sleepy Sundays – found himself astride a white horse in the middle of one of the city’s busiest streets, the sun not yet risen. Clad in his own designs, he certainly draws a few stares from the few milling about at such an hour. Cars slow down to gawk, pedestrians whip out their phones to snap a shot; Laduma keeps his cool.
The young designer might want to get used to causing a traffic-stopping scene. Since it’s debut in 2010, his knitwear range MAXHOSA BY LADUMA has been met with abundant praise. The bright colours, distinctive patterns, and quality materials have become synonymous with the brand and have garnered Laduma acclaim from across the globe. He’s exhibited his work everywhere from Berlin to Amsterdam, and all over South Africa.
It was his mother who taught him to knit. “She was a knitwear designer back in the 80’s,” he explains. By her hand, the young boy from PE began to understand the craft and develop his passion. Today he creates distinctive pieces, rich with significance and meticulously woven. His journey as a designer has become something of an homage to his late mother: “I sort of feel like I am continuing her journey, mixed with my own inspirations.”
As much an exploration of his Xhosa heritage as an expression of his own innate ability, Laduma’s journey thus far has culminated in the MAXHOSA range. Cognizant of the lack of traditional, locally produced knitwear for Xhosa initiates, the line began as his creative response to this absence. “I decided to explore patterns and motifs that would be suitable for Xhosa initiates,” he says. “So I took these and modified them, but I wanted the Xhosa inspiration to stand out as boldly as possible.”
A gentle and unassuming demeanour contradicts the ferocity of his talent. This year, he beat out ten other African designers to win the inaugural Vogue Scouting for Africa Prize, quite the accolade when you consider the struggle to find copies of the famed fashion bible in his hometown, “They didn’t sell Vogue in PE!” he laughs. “But I used to find copies to read when I was growing up, to keep myself revived and inspired.”
Speaking at Merchants on Long, the exclusive Cape Town stockist of MAXHOSA, Laduma exudes a vigorous desire for knowledge, and a refusal to compromise. Small wonder that he produces work of not just quality and beauty – but also of remembrance and reverence. “I feel like I’m always walking back to my culture,” he says, running his hand along his wares lining the rails. “But yet I’m moving forward with it at the same time.”