I first met Durban-born, London-based fashion designer Sindiso Khumalo in 2015, when she was (rather impressively) one of the speakers at the Design Indaba Conference. She was such a friendly, energetic person, I immediately wanted to be her friend, so we’ve been staying in touch on Instagram while she’s been back in London, but she’s often in Cape Town, which makes her practically a neighbour, so of course she has to be featured in our Friends and Neighbours blog series.
Thanks for participating, Sindi!
I call you a ‘fashion designer’ in the intro to this interview, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description of who you are and what you do. Tell us a bit about your journey as a designer.
Yes its funny, I have never called myself a fashion designer, although womenswear is the current main focus of the brand. I’m a craft focused designer and I know my craft strengths lie in my textiles. Its in that world of pigment, flocking and dyeing that I feel most myself in.
My journey has been roundabout one, I started off studying my first degree at the University of Cape Town in architecture. I loved it there! Some of the best years of my life were on that campus. Then I moved to London when I was 22 to work for an architecture firm and quickly realised I was more interested in textiles than architecture. So I applied to St Martins College, miraculously l got in and the rest, as they say, is history.
You’ve been living in London for a while, but now you’re (kind of) back in South Africa. What’s the plan? I am back and fourth a lot. I’m slowly moving
Well its exactly that. The biggest market for my clothing is Italy, I have six stores I stock there and the number is slowly growing. I make everything in South Africa, and ensure everything is produced in an ethical sustainable manner, so I have to be back in SA for production. I plan to continue pushing my work to more European and hopefully American markets. I think we are so lucky to be designing now when the world is literally at our fingertips. So I think when you find your market, embrace it and try to bring more exciting products to them.
Also I think its really important to be honest and vulnerable as a designer. I only make items I feel I have an intuitive sense about.
Tell us about the ideas behind your patterns and designs, and how they translate into a finished object.
Most of the objects are based from traditional Zulu beadwork, or from architecture in Durban, where I was raised. I try to bring that into the work, but I’m also currently obsessed with West Africa and its ridiculous wealth of crafts and architecture. Its just blown my mind.
I also am a purist to a large extent so I am aware of not overworking a piece of cloth. I try to have respect for materials and the planet when I’m designing. I always think “How can I make this the least wasteful piece of clothing.” The first thing is the quality, if its made well then it will last a long time.
What’s the best part about what you do?
Printing in a shared studio space I work in, in South London. Making and testing out new fabrics, colours and techniques. I also love discovering all the exciting ethical materials out there. I read somewhere about someone turning pineapple skin into a material that can be used for bags and shoes. I love discovering those sort of weird things.
And the worst?
Production is always difficult. But I’ve been super lucky and built up some invaluable relationships with my contractors. But its still hard you have to have a thick skin to make any product.
Give us an idea of what gets you inspired.
Walking. Whether its through cities or in rural environments. Sometimes a camera can never capture what you see. I like to walk, that why I love Cape Town and London. They are walking cities and you can find out so much about a city by just walking.
Do you have anything brand new, or any projects on the boil that you’d like to share?
Kidswear is launching online in a months time… so watch this space.