Designs with a capital Tee

I always liked coming back from overseas with a T-shirt that no one else had. It made me feel a little more special. It was not about just having that T-shirt, it also had to have a design that moved me somewhat. Not too much, but enough.

I left a job to make T-shirts (yes, that is how the plain truth sounds and it did surprise some of my friends). I mean, we all know that there are enough T-shirts out there and I clearly needed to have a different approach. My initial goal was to make and design a T-shirt better than anyone else out there: make the designs original, work with a patternmaker to get a great fit and use quality fabrics, even if it cost a little more. I cannot say that we are better, but we are different and that seems to be appreciated.

Mingo Lamberti was named after my grandfather and is not a collective or a group of collaborators. We commission designers and illustrators to create original artwork for the brand. We only make 200 of each design, ever. This may sound like a flawed business model, but it is a principle that I believe brings us our loyal support. We would rather someone stumble upon our work and love it than have it in every store in the country.

Our designs are released in ranges and we choose the ideas for the range very carefully, because we need to keep it original and inspire the designers to create something unique. Take, for example, the description from the Death Range: “Mingo Lamberti presents the Death Range, inspired by the final meeting, someday, with the tall guy in the black coat.”

It probably will not be the best day of your life, but if you are wearing one of these T-shirts you might be able to trade him for some extra time.


The range has five designs with only 200 of each, so even the darkest soul can proudly wear theirs in the light.

But there is a long road from merely making T-shirts to being a fully functional design brand. It was never my goal just to make T-shirts. The design on them was the most important and most loved part of the process, so we have taken our designs to other places.

We have started with a range of cushions called the Tea Cup collection, designed with Pearly Yon, and our next project is a set of crockery and cups.

After that we will move on to whatever inspires us.

The great thing about being independent is independence itself. We guard that jealously and value the ability to do what we want.

But it is not that I just do not like being told what to do. Beyond that, I think it is about being able to make a decision and execute it without having to get a bunch of people ­diluting and changing your idea (these are the scars I bear from working in advertising).

Mingo Lamberti is designed and made in South Africa. Yet it is a fact that you will not see anywhere on our garments or on our website. We love our country, but we do not believe that we need to use that as motivation for people to buy our products. If you like it; great, if not, then have a good day.

Visit Mingo Lamberti at the FoodWineDesign Fair this weekend.

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