The fabric armourer: Thebe Magugu

Fashion designer

Kimberley may not be at the top of one’s list of fashion capitals, but fashion designer Thebe Magugu calls it home.

“What I appreciate about growing up there is the fact that, due to limited resources, one has to create their own future from scratch. Because there wasn’t much of fashion scene, I created one. From grade 8 to grade 12, I founded a magazine titled Little Black Book and I wrote and created content for all 100 pages, which ranged from fashion to philosophy.”

After completing high school at St Patrick’s College, Magugu moved to Johannesburg to study fashion and apparel design at the Lisof Fashion School, from which he graduated in 2014.

This was followed by the birth of his eponymous fashion label, Thebe Magugu, for which he designs and makes women’s apparel that complies with and enhances the everyday.

“There are enough clothes in the world, so I think now it’s about making clothes that actually mean something to people. I love clothing that can be beautiful, transformative, functional and have a bit of an intellectual edge.”

Today his label is part of Woolworths’ Style By SA collection.

Work and meaning

Magugu’s work is influenced by the academic environment he and his peers have occupied. Consumers may not have caught on yet but his collections are named after university subjects.

“When I felt the need to escape into the great outdoors for Spring/Summer 2017, my collection, Geology, was born. When I was fed up with all the expectations placed on women in the country this past season, Home Economics was born. When I stayed in Johannesburg CBD for Spring/Summer 2016, Social Sciences was born.”

In his Home Economics collection, Magugu addresses misogyny and the yoke of domestication, motherhood, chastity and the beauty standards imposed on women.

“The colours remind one of chemicals that reacted badly with one another — magnesium purples, high-in-alkaline pinks with sulphuric brights — which speak of the hostile environment women find themselves in,” he says in the essay accompanying the collection.

The same goes for Geology, which was prompted by the need to encourage women to escape the noise and pressures of urban life by exploring the outdoors.

The models are seen in wide-open fields playing childhood games such as rope jumping or kgathi.

The collection speaks of South Africa’s land issue. In the lookbook, women are draped in browns, reds, golds and blue hues that suggests their connection to the sandy landscape and open skies.

Future plans

Magugu plans to continue taking the world’s issues and create everyday armour for women. He will also use his brand to oppose corruption in fashion.

“There are so many young, brilliant designers who really need funding and support and, instead, all that seems to go to greedy gatekeepers who don’t want to let a younger generation of designers flourish,” he says.

“I can only but strive for excellence from myself and encourage my peers to do so, because true authenticity will always come to the fore and be recognised, despite limited resources.”

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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