Samkelisiwe Mhlongo—not to be confused with renowned finance and wealth coach, Samke Mhlongo— is an accessories designer, from Amanzimtoti, Durban. Mhlongo was in the clothing business before closing shop and launching St Reign, in 2017. The bespoke leather accessories brand was selected as one of Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives for 2020. The mother, wife, entrepreneur, and student— is passionate about writing fiction and has a few short stories published online.
The spirited creative entrepreneur tells us more about the brand, her Design Indaba experience, and much more.
The genesis of St Reign ... The name of the brand was inspired by God. I believe truly that all talents and capabilities are from Him. The work of my hands is inspired by God and I wanted a name that will remind me that God reigns. I see God as flawless (and as a saint), hence “St”. This keeps me grounded and to remember not to take my talents for granted. The name ended up sounding very sophisticated, which doesn’t hurt the brand at all.
Being selected as an Emerging Creative for DI2020 . was a dream come true. Design Indaba is one of the biggest design festivals in the world and being recognised by them means I am on the right track.
The overall experience was everything I thought it would be and so much more. I got to learn from the experts in the industry, gained exposure as a new designer, met other talented creatives who have inspired me to keep pushing. Right now, it’s all about executing what I learned through the workshops and the feedback I got from designers that I look up to in the industry. I am very inspired by the innovators and creatives that are changing the world for the better, through design.
I am making these bags... for anyone who appreciates handcrafted work, a product that is made by hand from beginning to end. It’s for someone who is looking for an accessory that doesn’t scream for attention but still makes a statement. I always say I am making art pieces and I want my customers to plan their outfits around the bag, not the other way around. Good quality, timeless pieces that you can pass down for generations to come.
My design philosophy. Minimalism. Clean lines. Modern. I don’t let trends influence me at all. I create classic pieces that can’t be tied down to an era in time. St Reign’s slogan is merging craft with design, which is exactly what I do. Taking an old age craft (leather craft) and turning it into modern, minimalist design.
I draw inspiration from... everyday life and everyday people. I currently have two ranges. The Icons range which debuted at Design Indaba is inspired by the youth of South Africa, their drive and tenacity in chasing their dreams.
The actual shapes and features are actually inspired by the stylish women that raised me. My mom Thembekile, her sister Flo, and my grandmother. In the icons range for instance, the bag handles were inspired by my late grandmother uMaShange. She was the epitome of style and sophistication, she always carried her bag on her arm and not by hand.
The second range, Imbadada, is inspired by the Izimbadada shoes which is a shoe popular worn by Zulu people and is made from tyres. This is me drawing inspiration from my roots and paying homage to the traditional style and fashion of the Zulu people.
Future plans and vision for the brand is...to see it grow into a luxury African brand that will have a global appeal. I want to see it on international fashion platforms. And more importantly, to create employment through St Reign and start giving back to the youth by offering leather tutorials. That is what will make this more worthwhile for me.