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Q&A: Designer Zamaswazi Nkosi’s ’African meets West’ couture is capturing the attention of South Africa’s A-listers

Fashion designer Zamaswazi Nkosi is on the brink of great success. Hailing from Zola, Soweto he had a meandering journey into the world of fashion, but his natural talent and steady determination has shaped him into one of the most sought-after up-and-coming designers in South Africa.

His custom red carpet creations are architectural, dramatic, and beautiful, and he frequently incorporates traditional African textiles in his gowns, creating an ‘African meets West’ aesthetic that celebrates his roots and rich cultural heritage.

His talent for garment-making began as a child; when he would upcycle his sisters’ old clothing into items he could wear. Unbeknownst to him, he developed a skill, and when his dream of becoming a professional football player collapsed, he realised he could use fashion as a tool to travel the world and gain recognition.

Recognition is something he enjoys in excess these days thanks to his trendy yet traditional gowns and dapper menswear with an African flair. He even worked with the Miss SA organisation to create gowns for Lalela Mswane and Shudufhadzo Musida. Yet according to the designer, while he is grateful for the success and opportunities so far, he still has a long way to go. For now though, he’s just enjoying the ride.

Glamour SA caught up with Zamaswazi to find out more about his journey, inspirations and dreams for the future.

What inspires you when designing a gown?

Zamaswazi is passionate and fascinated by the creativity and ever-evolving trends of this industry - from the art of hand work to technology. We are inspired by everything that surrounds us in our everyday lives.

Zamaswazi is for any individual who is proud of being who they are and where they come from, and are confident in where they are going.

You incorporate traditional African textiles into your gowns, creating an ‘African meets West aesthetic.’ How important is this to you?

It’s important because that’s my way of telling my story through the garments I create. We are not only proudly South African but proudly African. We embrace our local fabrics and material while still creating quality garments. It is important to embrace our culture.

You mentioned you are a self-taught fashion designer. How did you start off in the fashion industry? What has your career journey been like to get to where you are now?

Yes, I’m self taught by profession. it was a crazy journey. I was never interested in fashion, I was a soccer player . My dream was to be the next soccer star but due to my knee injury, I realised that I won’t be able to continue playing, and soccer was my ticket to travel the world.

Due to my injury, I had to think of something else that would allow me travel the world and get noticed. I began a process of of introspection and thought of all the skills that I had. And I’m someone who believes in being able to do anything, so that was not a tough task.

I learned that not having much growing up made it easier for me to think outside the box. I had to come up with the plan that would change my life and lives of my family.

Growing up was hard and being raised by a single unemployed woman was tough. I used to take my sister’s clothes and rework them into something I could wear, not realising I was developing a skill. I started getting noticed for my sense of style, and friends suggested I try my hand at fashion design.

I did my research and began attending Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, where I met Brian Lehang, a style consultant and a golfer. He saw this guy with weird dress sense, and approached me, asking if I can take him pictures of him. Our friendship blossomed from there. That night he drove me home and the following day he came visit my studio, where at the time, I was working from my garage.

He helped me with many things. He took me to the mall and subscribed me to DSTV so I’d be able to watch Fashion TV and he bought me my first industrial sewing machine. Meeting Brian Lehang was one of the biggest blessings in my life.

We started making collections for local fashion shows. I tried out for bigger platforms but was not accepted because I didn’t have the right qualifications. I kept working hard to improve my skills, and in 2016, I got accepted for an SA Fashion Week menswear competition - that was the turning point in my career. I was the finalist in the competition from there I never looked back.

I was also part of a design competition on SABC 1 called RawSilk. In 2019 I was invited to Copenhagen, Denmark by the late Zinzi Mandela .

From working in a back room to a gaining a bigger studio is an achievement on it’s own. It’s been an interesting journey I guess. Perhaps I should write a book about it

How would you describe your design style?

We create bespoke couture with an African flair.

How do you want women to feel when wearing your creations?

When creating these garments, we are not restricted by any size or body structure. We want people to feel proud and confident in our gowns and we believe our creations instil confidence in our clients.

It not what you make , it’s how you make it, and it’s not what you wear it’s how you wear it. Quality and fit is what really makes a garment stand out, and we personalise our creations to bring each client’s vision to life.

You designed dresses for Lalela Mswane during her Miss SA appearances. What was that experience like for you?

It was a dream come true. I’ve been knocking and knocking to be a part of the designers for Miss SA. It was an incredible experience.

What are some of your other career highlights?

Showcasing at SA Fashion Week , Durban Fashion Fair, being a part of RawSilk on SABC1, being invited to Cross Borders in Denmark, and working with celebrities that are proud of my creativity. Somizi in particular, pushes me to be even more daring with my designs.

What do you hope to achieve next in your career?

Being an international designer and designing for global figures. However, locally I woud love to dress DJ Black Coffee ,Trevor Noah, Thuso Mbedu, Bonang Matheba, Nomzamo Mbatha, and Zozibini Tunzi.

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