A year ago, designer Thebe Magugu became the first African designer to win the LVMH prize, one of the most important prizes in this industry. A great international showcase for this young talent, but also a great highlight for the contemporary creation on the continent.
This young designer, from the city of Kimberley and based in Johannesburg, launched his women’s ready-to-wear brand in 2015 after several experiences with different retailers and designers. He also studied design, fashion and photography at LISOF School of Fashion in Johannesburg, one of Africa’s top fashion schools.
His label, which bears his name, celebrates his African cultural roots with a modern approach. He aims at elevating the often too cliché vision of African fashion, by offering his clients a luxury ready-to-wear rich in culture, quality, modern with original patterns and references to its African roots. Every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to production, takes place on the continent. Thebe Magugu dreams of employing more artisans in South Africa where the youth unemployment rate is 30%. “ It is enormous ! I want to do my part, ” he told reporters. It is important that his customers are informed about the origin of the materials used. The designer therefore incorporates a microchip in each garment, using an application called Verisium. This technology can be used to display a description of the manufacturing process, a picture of everyone who worked on the garment and the overall history of the collection.
The collection, that won the LVMH Prize, is called “Prosopography” and is inspired by the Black Sash, those white women who, as early as the 1950s, faced the apartheid in South Africa.
“We often talk about Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. However, there are the smaller voices, whose stories get lost in historical transcriptions, but who also played an important role in the struggle for freedom, ”says Magugu.
His outfits, modern and sometimes classic but always elegant, are often colorful. They highlight the sensuality and confidence of women. His dresses, in which excerpts from his childhood diary are printed on silk, caught the attention of Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue America magazine, who examined the designer’s work during reviews for the award.
Thebe Magugu has no plans to leave South Africa despite his international ambition. “When I presented my collection to the jury, I said that my dream was to build a global brand, which is exported everywhere,” said the designer. “But I also told them that, for me, it was important to stay based in my country. My mission has always been to show contemporary South Africa. “I want to put an end to some rather easy stereotypes about Africa and about fashion from this continent” insists the designer.
However, many obstacles remain, especially logistics. “The only thing I have a problem with is distribution, especially transportation. It is so easy to import into South Africa, but it is very difficult to get out of it,” he said, highlighting one of the major problems faced by creators in Africa.