Famous South African Textile Designers

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Some artists draw inspiration from their home country. It's certainly true of people in one African country who create bright patterned textiles. In this lesson learn about several famous South African textile designers.

A Rich Heritage of African Textiles

What inspires you? Some textile designers draw inspiration from their home communities and cultures. A textile designer is someone who creates the look and feel of textiles, including the patterns woven into or printed on their surface. Textiles are flexible fabric materials used to make products like clothing, rugs, and linens.

Textile designers create the colorful designs and patterns on fabric
colorful patterned textiles

Many textile designers come from South Africa, a country with a rich heritage of textile production and many indigenous or native cultures with their own bold pattens and designs. This mix makes South Africa the perfect staging ground for a growing cadre of designers who use the country and its people as inspiration for their work. Let's learn more about several famous South African textile designers.

Famous South African Textile Designers

Laduma Ngxokolo

Award-winning designer Laduma Ngxokolo was introduced to textiles as a boy when his mother taught him to use a sewing machine. A member of the Xhosa culture, an indigenous culture in South Africa, Ngxokolo is inspired by traditional Xhosa beadwork patterns and designs. He uses those Xhosa designs to create knits with bold, abstract and geometric patterns. They're then featured on his line of knitwear clothing, called MaXhosa by Laduma.

Ngxokolo showcases his culture in a modern way. He uses South African materials like mohair (goat's hair) and wool, and all of his garments are made in South Africa. Celebrated for his merger of modern and traditional, Ngxokolo's designs have been showcased around the world.

Bongiwe Walaza

Bongiwe Walaza was the daughter of a seamstress who taught her to sew and knit when she was a young girl. Walaza made her own clothes from scraps of fabric that her mother gave her. But her father wanted her to pursue a professional career, so she studied math and engineering. She worked as an engineer for several years before finding her way back to textiles. In her 30s, Walaza returned to school and studied fashion design at Natal Technikon.

Many of Walaza's bold, sometimes asymmetrical clothing designs, including women's dresses and tiered skirts, echo elements of African tradition merged with modern style. They often use isishweshwe, a fabric with a long history in South Africa that ties to 19th century and colonialism. Isishweshwe is a lightweight cotton printed with repeated designs in colors like indigo, brown, and red.

Walaza collaborates with a South African company called Da Gama textiles for some of her fabrics. She has also developed products for Wild Silk Africa, as well as several South African retail chains.

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