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Studio Visit: Sindiso Khumalo

CULTURE

Studio Visit: Sindiso Khumalo

The Botswana-born, Durban-raised, London-based creative explains why nature is the best designer

by Cajsa Carlson
on 27 May 2015

Sindiso Khumalo's studio space in her light, spacious London flat is filled with things that inspire the fashion and textile designer. A David Bowie LP shares space with family photos, a book on Julie Verhoeven, African art and plenty of other bits and bobs that hint at the influences for Khumalo’s often colorful graphic prints. Born in Botswana, Khumalo grew up in Durban, South Africa and has called London home for more than a decade. While her home studio features her sketches and mood-boards, the actual textile printing for her Sindiso Khumalo brand takes place in South London, in Bermondsey’s Printall Studios. Her collections are then made in South Africa, where Khumalo is happy that her company gives her an opportunity to help the country’s unemployment problem. “It’s important to me that the clothes have integrity, that the workers are paid a decent wage, and I work closely with the people who make the clothes,” she tells CH.

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Khumalo, who we discovered at this year’s Design Indaba, designs collections that draw on her experience from working as an architect (she studied architecture and worked with David Adjaye before turning to textile design) and what she herself wants to wear. “There is always a pragmatism to the work that I make and I think that comes from architecture. I don’t believe in showpieces—for me, design is about function. I make clothes that are made to be worn.”

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Nature is the best designer.

When it comes to her design identity, she says: “I always say I’m a textile designer, first and foremost, and then I’m African, I’m a woman, I’m a mum, I’m a Londoner. I’m all of these things that influence what I do.” It’s a background that has resulted in striking collections, whether her prints are in black and white, or feature some of the color palettes that she often finds in nature. “Nature is the best designer—things work! I look at corals or tropical fish, and their colors, because to me they’re the most interesting color combinations.“

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As well as the Memphis movement and Bauhaus, Khumalo’s designs are partly inspired by her Zulu heritage, though how it influences her designs has changed lately. “Before, it used to be the main influence in my work, but right now I try and clash the Zulu space with me living in London,” she explains. “A cold, rainy, grey environment that’s also very ordered and systematic—clashing that with my Zulu heritage, which is very bright and bold… Combining the two together into a print or textile is definitely how I work. I always try to think, ‘What does London feel like on a textile? What does Durban feel like? And how do the two merge?’”

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Her upcoming S/S 2016 collection has a different feel to her previous work. “S/S16 is very muted, influenced by the fact that I’m a new mum, so I’ve had a change in my body. I did some white-on-white prints that are almost like a memory of a print. I like to think of color from an abstract point of view: what if there’s no color, or what if there’s the memory of a color?" The more subdued palette is not the only change for the brand—this season, Khumalo introduces her inaugural menswear collection. Like the womenswear pieces, the menswear styles will be made for everyday wear, combining function with beauty. As Khumalo explains it, "I make pieces that people wear, and I like to lift up their mood and make them feel happy. It’s a privilege to make objects that can brighten up people’s lives.”

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Sindiso Khumalo will take part in the upcoming exhibition “Africa: Architecture, Culture and Identity” at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and her clothes are sold through Merchants on Long and Styled by Africa. An online store is launching later this year.

Images by Cajsa Carlson

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