Graduation day is still a few weeks away but unlike most of his peers, Lukhanyo Mdingi won’t be sending out his CV to retail chains, nor will he be interning for a big designer in an attempt to forge a career in the fashion industry. At least this shouldn’t be the case if the reception to his collection at last week’s inaugural Menswear Week is anything to go by.
Mdingi sent models sashaying down the makeshift runway in the parking lot of the V&A Waterfront in crisp whites and many shades of grey. But it was the texture in the form of chunky knits, woven hats and the variations of linen the models wore that were a talking point, and brought the audience to its feet.
“It is based on the Macramé technique,” the 22-year-old told the Mail & Guardian, referring to the form of textile-making he explored in his collection. “Staying true to my minimal aesthetic, I wanted to introduce fabric types that embodied qualities and similarities to the technique.”
It’s not the first time Mdingi has managed to impress the fashion world with his minimalist aesthetic. He has churned out three noteworthy collections, including the more avant-garde Iridescence collection that he made as part of his postgraduate thesis titled “Avant Garde Menswear: A Challenge to South African Fashion”.
The East London-born designer first caught the attention of the industry when he entered the ELLE Rising Star designer search two years ago. Although he didn’t win, bloggers, stylists and magazine editors were clamouring to feature his range in their work.
With this particular collection Mdingi says his aim was to maintain consistency while displaying creative progression. “I have an indescribable love for fashion design; it’s something that I hold in high regard,” he said, adding that his aim with every new collection is to exhibit growth and knowledge in technique and design skill.
In spite of the praise that’s been showered on the young designer, no buyers have shown interest in stocking his collections. But since launching his brand officially, he’s already made a deal with online fashion hub, Akedo, to sell all his past collections and the current one on their platform, starting next month.
“I’m super hard at work to make sure that all falls into place,” he said. “Right now it’s important for me to continue with my part-time job so I can work on the business side of the Lukhanyo Mdingi brand.”
The optimistic Mdingi also appreciates that the journey ahead will not be easy. “I’ve put my heart into an industry that is sometimes seen as super fickle, but at the same time it produces the world’s best visionaries. I’ve turned down retail job opportunities and continued with my part-time job waiting on tables to help build my brand, allowing me to have more creative freedom and time to focus on my baby – the collections.”
“I want young aspiring designers to be aware of the struggles and hard work that comes with building a brand without any financial resources. Hustling and persistence are ideal when you’re working towards something.”
Focus and passion are vital qualities in young designers like Mdingi, whose stars can fade almost as quickly as they rise in the tough fashion biz. The challenge for young flavours of the moment is turning acclaim into something tangible. This could be because of a lack of business acumen or an inability to see beyond the glamour. Mdingi, however, is determined to keep afloat.
By the time he gets into his graduation gown, he could be well on his way to establishing himself as a fully-fledged fashion entrepreneur.