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This is why everyone is wearing Nhlanhla Nciza’s clothes

When you think of Africa, you are drawn into its colourful beauty, from the landscapes, food, languages, culture, people and its richness in diversity. The fashion is just as colourful and renowned for a variety of prints that are synonymous with the African aesthetic. 

Homegrown muso and Mafikizolo’s leading lady, Nhlanhla Nciza – a multi-faceted individual who not only continues to share her gift for music with us, but now her flair for fashion as well.

Over the past two years she’s revived her clothing brand, NN Vintage with modern updates and silhouettes that the locals adore. Our celebrities and influencers are showing the love for the brand and are giving the rest of us major FOMO.

We spoke to Nhlanhla about the fashion industry, NN Vintage, her accomplishments and her plans for the future.

The revamp of NN Vintage was praised from every corner. How did this make you feel?

It felt amazing obviously. When I first got into fashion I was doing it for the people who appreciated the way I looked. I was really humbled by the reception and the way people accepted the fashion side of me the way they accepted my music.

What did you do differently this time that you didn’t do when you first launched the label in 2007?

It hasn’t been an easy journey. When I started I was fresh in the industry, and my first and second collections were basically what I thought fashion was about at the time. They weren’t items that I myself would necessarily wear, but I thought I was giving people what they wanted. My lesson there was in realising that I should be putting out a collection I would want to wear. I had to remind myself why I got into fashion in the first place, which essentially was to share my fashion with the women who appreciated it.

You debuted a collection called ‘Evolution’ in 2015’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Take us back to your vision then.

That particular range was inspired by the African continent. At the time I was travelling the continent a lot, and fell in love once again with everything encompassing the beauty of Africa. I travelled through countries where I saw women proudly wearing their respective culture’s regalia and that made me want to showcase that beauty and that experience through my fashion. I wanted to remind people to embrace their culture, and it was important to me to show people that they would be able to wear my clothes to any occasion and still feel pride in their African roots.

What excites you about the current state of African fashion?

I think that more and more we’re starting to fall in love with who we are – not only in fashion, but in the way we rock our hair and everything else we do that’s truly African. I think women are starting to support their local brands and now wear their traditional outfits on a daily basis, rather than only on a special occasion as they used to do in the past. It really amazes me, and now the rest of the world is looking to Africa too. We live in a time where we are able to shine without being afraid to showcase who we are.

Speaking of the international market looking into African fashion, what’s your take on the recent events of plagiarism from international brands?

Obviously, we aren’t happy about it; the least people can do is to acknowledge that they were inspired by Africa. It’s not something that they ever mention – they present their ideas as their own, and it’s really sad for us as a nation. It’s a challenge that we have to face, and unfortunately it’s a tricky process to stop people stealing from our continent and stealing from our designers. But it’s something that we can fight together as a united front. If we talk about it continuously, and use the various platforms we have to start a conversation, I think eventually people will start listening and start to respect us.

Vintage is making a comeback in a huge way – we see it on the runways and everywhere we go. What does vintage mean to you?

Vintage is quality and everlasting beauty. Just look at fashion from the 1940s to ‘60s and you’ll see what I mean. People from that era knew effortless style and they respected fashion and loved looking good when stepping out. Looking at the Sophiatown era, people looked good when they went out, and growing up, I used to wear my grandmother and my mother’s clothes. It was a time where people respected other people’s work, and even if there were a few fakes here and there, it wasn’t as bad as it is today. Vintage is timeless, hence the comeback now.

Who were your style icons growing up?

Mama Abigail Khubeka stood out for me because she always looked amazing. Someone from our generation who has always been in the spotlight and has never been afraid of wearing African fashion is Thandiswa Mazwai. Internationally Jackie O has always been an inspiration for me as well.

There are so many types of African print available. How do you choose which one to use for each garment and each season?

During my travels I buy a lot of fabrics, but in general Africans are colourful people and so it doesn’t matter what season it is. I play around with a mixture of fabrics and if it works, it works.

How do you ensure that working with prints doesn’t get boring for you?

I try to keep it clean and effortless. I add details, or I use tutus, one of our signature looks, to make fashion fun, interesting and girly. If you look at my previous collection, you’ll see I used a combination of fur, plain colours and lace.

People are obsessed with your designs! Are you looking to expand to other provinces?

I would love that as we’re getting orders from all the provinces. Right now I’m looking to hopefully open up a store in Johannesburg, but as for other places, I’m taking my time first. Perhaps in the meantime I can do pop-up stores in the different provinces.

What can we expect from the brand this year?

I’m thinking about doing evening wear at some point, but what I want to do first is focus on the programmes I’ll be running this year. These programmes aim at developing young designers and creating a platform for designers coming straight out of school, as it’s always difficult for them to get started in the industry. The first one will be held at Mogale City during women’s month.

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